Milwaukee County Executive Takes Action to Declare Racism a Public Health Crisis

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A Milwaukee County executive has made clear his commitment to ensuring racial equity across the county in Wisconsin’s largest metropolitan area.

On Monday, Chris Abele signed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Abele, a Democrat, said the measure was about making a public commitment to take action “in the face of injustice.”

Chris Abele
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said he wants race equity to be at the center of decisions about budget and policy. (WTMJ-TV / video screenshot)

“Everybody has been reading and hearing about the same set of statistics in Milwaukee for decades,” he said. “We lead in an unfortunate way the racial disparities in employment, in education, incarceration, in income and even things like … access to capital.”

“The measures we are taking will ensure every resident in every neighborhood benefits,” Abele added.

County supervisors, as well as members of the Office on African American Affairs joined Abele at the signing Monday, reports WTMJ-TV. The measure was introduced by the county executive and Supervisor Marcelia Nicholson, while supervisors Supreme Moore Omokunde and Deanna Alexander co-sponsored the effort.

Racism has been linked to several issues impacting the nation, including negative health outcomes like high infant mortality and maternal mortality rates among African-Americans. These issues also include lack of prenatal care for Black mothers, housing segregation and disparate treatment of students of color at school.

“Racial equity is not an issue that we will solve in one day or one year,” said Nicole Brookshire, director of the OAAA. “We are taking small steps, having big conversations and implementing vital measures to address the problem head-on and move toward a more equitable Milwaukee.” 

Under the new measure, the county would resolve to: advocate for policies that improve health in communities of color; assess internal policies and procedures to ensure racial equity is a core element of the county; and take steps to create an inclusive organization and identify specific activities aimed at increasing diversity, among other things.

“We need to address racism as a public health crisis but on a large scale to make sure that we transform our culture, transform how we serve our residents and we drive solutions that are equitable,” Brookshire added.

Last fall, the OAAA provided racial equity training to more than 150 leaders and plans to expand the training to at least 5,500 employees in 2019.

According to WTMJ-TV, Milwaukee County has also enlisted the help of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity to train county employees on racial equity and come up with a Racial Equity Plan. 

“We want every single person who works for the county, every decision they make to be thinking how can I make this decision in a way that’s more effective and more likely to make a difference for these disparities,” Abele said.

Watch more in the video below.

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