“The President’s Perspective”
By Alderman Ashanti Hamilton
Common Council President City of Milwaukee
On Sunday, Milwaukee was given the opportunity to stop and look in the mirror. What we saw was a reflection of something we’ve seen for far too long, an image that has remained unchanged and unchecked. That proverbial mirror, provided by CNN’s series “United Shades of America”, is one that we walk past daily, yet never stop and take an honest look at what is staring back at us.
W. Kamau Bell, host and sociopolitical comedian, didn’t spark conversations throughout the city because he told us something we didn’t know, but rather it served as a reminder of what we already know and experience. As a Milwaukeean, we are tacitly aware that the neighborhood in which we live most likely is filled with people who look like us, we know the statistics surrounding suspension and incarceration rates, we know that everyone is not welcome everywhere. The negative statistics are not a shock to us; the shock is borne out of the knowledge that what stares back at us is the reflection of our values.
Throughout the episode, we are introduced to several Black Milwaukeeans, who span various demographics, who all report the same instances of encountering racial bias as they regularly move about their daily lives; some of these instances range from situations in which an educator compares her Black student to an offensive stereotype to the tragic death of Dontre Hamilton in a public park across from City Hall. From issues of redlining to the downturn in the economy, Black people in Milwaukee, who represent over 40 percent of the population, have struggled to reach parity. This is not fully realized growth. This is not how we reinvigorate a city. This is not how we ensure equity. The heart of a city is not its downtown; it is its people, all of its people.
In order to achieve this, we must first take responsibility for the part we play.
I’ve worked to create legislation to address these issues. From sponsoring a Resolution in 2008 that reaffirmed the City of Milwaukee’s commitment to inclusion as fundamental to our way of doing business to sponsoring a Resolution this year to take actions towards achieving racial equity by transforming City systems and policies.
I have been motivated by our community’s need and work to create initiatives, policies, programs and legislation to address them. However, there are big, meaningful commitments we must all be willing to make to change the way our institutions work and shift them to reflect the values of fairness and equity.
To this end, I challenge Milwaukeeans to continue to have honest discussions about our unenviable position on national disparity listings. CNN’s “United Shades of America” put Milwaukee’s shame on display. We can’t afford to run away from it any longer and cover these awful truths beneath “Midwestern niceness”. These issues require a purposeful and collective mea culpa and hard look at our values. Then, acknowledging and accepting the ugliness of our situation, we dismantle it, piece by harmful piece and begin crafting a humanely principled way forward.