“The President’s Perspective”
By Alderman Ashanti Hamilton
Common Council President City of Milwaukee
Recently, the County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution declaring Racism as a Public Health Crisis in Milwaukee County. The resolution detailed action steps that the County intends to take in order to address racial bias in internal operations and support an equity agenda that mitigates these biases. I want to commend the County for passage of this legislation and publicly state that the City of Milwaukee is addressing this in our practices as well. On May 16, the Public Safety and Health Committee will be hearing Council File 190098, a resolution mirroring this effort.
Many of the issues that face Black and Brown communities in Milwaukee are the direct result systems that were created to perpetuate these disparities. The lived experience of Black and Brown residents affirms that the largest of these barriers is racism.
We should acknowledge the system is not broken; it is operating as intended. One of the areas of life that is the most impacted by this is in our health. The daily challenge of living in and attempting to navigate a system that was created with the intent to facilitate the progression of White people manifests itself in insidious ways for Black and Brown people. Mental health concerns, stress, increased rates of high blood pressure, AODA issues, maternal and infant mortality and a myriad of serious health issues are all negative health impact that can be directly tied to racism.
The sustained level of experiential trauma causes a physiological shift in the way our bodies operate and create the space for disease. Environmental issues like poverty, violence, lack of access in our community constitutes a public health discussion and the trauma that members of our community endure falls in the same category.
All of this constitutes a public health crisis. The question now becomes what do we do about it? Too often we bring up an issue without a solution. We cannot support our communities in creating new conditions which enable all people to thrive and access power, resources, and opportunities without first acknowledging the current system for exactly what it is: racist. What we are proposing with our resolution is to confront systems of racism and eradicate its impact from our community for reasons of morality, justice and the tangible health benefits of our residents. In order to do the work that will make that possible, we have to start by looking in the mirror and holding ourselves accountable.
The Equal Rights Commission has made a firm commitment to working with my office and the entire Council on researching how we can make the City Government an inspiration for others to begin to explore how to deal with racial bias and practices within their own organizations. It will begin with an assessment of our internal policy to ensure that we effectively apply a racial equity lens as a core component of our operational practices. Then we will identify specific best practices that will seek to improve diverse representation throughout our workforce, especially in leadership positions.
The ERC has pledged to do the legwork to investigate and vet replicable current models used in other cities. There is also an educational component to this work. We hope to use these models to develop internal trainings that will deepen employees’ capacity to understand how and why racism affects individuals and their health.
Finally, this involves advocacy. City government must create an equity focused legislative agenda to pass relevant policies that strategically dismantle racist systems. The goal is to not only improve health in communities of color and support state and federal initiatives, but begin to shift our entire society to a more just and equitable state.
Current conditions in Milwaukee have created a Tale of Two Cities. One City that is a vibrant, economically active downtown and one that consists of diverse and promising neighborhoods, cut off from the same attention and investment afforded downtown. Beginning to honestly address why these glaring disparities exist must begin with City of Milwaukee, our practices, and our promise to equitably unify and uplift all communities within the City of Milwaukee.