“The President’s Perspective”
By Alderman Ashanti Hamilton
Common Council President City of Milwaukee
What does it mean to be unified? Today, it seems nearly impossible to go 15 minutes without seeing an article headline or news clip emphasizing our challenge as a nation to reach consensus on almost any issue. It would seem we are a people and nation divided. This divisiveness pervades our national conversation. Can we repair the cultural, social, and political fault lines that have been drawn? Can people of diverse ideologies, experiences and backgrounds come to consensus for the greater good? The answer is yes, but it will take commitment to a concept of holistic operational unity for it to happen.
Operational unity means that we don’t have to be the same or believe in the same things in order to effectively work together. It is a false narrative that being united somehow comes with a loss of uniqueness or erasure of individual values. What operational unity as a concept means is a willingness to align priorities for the common good despite the differences of ideology or opinion. It is a model first defined by Dr. Maulana Karenga and adopted broadly by groups and constituencies working to overcome the challenge of differences and diversity in decision making processes. Dr. Karenga posited that “unity without uniformity, unity in diversity” forms a way to acknowledge, accept and value our differences without allowing those differences to upend productive dialogue and action towards shared goals of a better life for all people.
As we approach the federal holiday celebrating Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy, it is important to remember how the complex nature of unity was put on display during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Think about the dichotomy between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
Different philosophies, public disagreements, and separate efforts often times characterized their relationship. However, they were united by common cause of improving the lives of Black people in this country. Malcolm X even called for leaders to “submerge our ‘minor’ differences in order to seek a common solution to a common problem posed by a Common Enemy.” This statement is just as important today. We have to realize that we are trying to overcome the same problems and put our differences aside to attack those issues from all angles.
At the end of the day, we all want what is best for our community. We all want to see kids succeed in school, violence end in our neighborhoods, residents earn an income that allows financial stability and quality housing made available to everyone. Barriers to these goals are the common enemy, and it requires innovative solutions to break those barriers down. As we know from the realities of our world, we don’t always agree on how to do it. That should not stop us from getting a solution.
If everyone doing the work in our community can subvert their individual agendas and realize that we have to do something other than seek personal gains, we will move forward. We all have different gifts, different talents and different shortcomings. If we are really willing to unite against the common enemies that keep people in poverty and insecurity, we could actually make it happen. As a matter of fact, the only times that things have really gotten done in this City is when that has been the case.
It is 2019. It is a new chapter in our history. Let’s make this the year where we stop competing against one another to get the same thing done. Let’s make this the year where we get over our personal and organizational ambitions to see results–regardless of who gets the credit. Milwaukee needs to make unity the narrative around our City and serve as an example for the nation and the world.