There's a new approach to deal with racial segregation in Milwaukee - a contest.
Milwaukee has long been called one of the most segregated cities in the country. Whites mainly live in nicer, wealthier areas, while blacks live mostly in inner-city neighborhoods plagued by poverty and crime.
News about those troubles had been getting to Ken Hanson. He says last winter, while driving to his company, Hansen Dodge Creative, he heard our story about Milwaukee’s 53206 zip code. There, one-third of working-age adults are unemployed and nearly 4,000 black men are either in prison or have been.
And the bad news kept coming. Hanson heard reports about Wisconsin being the worst state in the nation when it comes to the well-being of black children, and about growing polarization in the community.
Yet it all didn’t seem to affect his world.
“You know I run a firm on the east side of Milwaukee just full of wonderful people and they come to work over the Hoan Bridge or on Lake Drive and they don’t really sense or feel any repercussions of the segregation issues or the social justice issues in Milwaukee,” Hanson says.
But Hanson says his mindset has changed.
“I’ve come to believe that if we’re not part of the solution, that we’re part of the problem and it’s going to change when all of us decide that we want it to change,” Hanson says.
He came up with the idea he calls, Greater Together. It will ask people to submit ideas for how the community can solve its segregation problems.
“The 10 best proposals will be presented the first week of October and the audience will select the winning proposal. It’s my hope that the ideas are so good that all of the 10 ideas make their way into funding somehow,” Hanson says.
The judges will match the 10 top ideas with design teams. Hanson says about 40 Milwaukee-area organizations with social justice missions are joining in, and they’ll spread the word online.
“We have through these different organizations, we now have a constituency of over 300,000 people and so that’s a lot of social media power. That’s a lot of connections,” Hanson says.
“It’s critically important for us to make sure that the issues of racial and economic segregation are on the table,” says Lauren Baker, executive director of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association. It’s one of the groups collaborating on the “Greater Together” campaign.
The union represents Milwaukee Public School teachers. Baker says they see damaging results of segregation.
“Wisconsin has the widest gap in test scores between African American and white students in the nation, in every category. And that certainly reflects the black and white unemployment gap, the fact that our state has the worst incarceration rate for African American men. The effect of that on the community you see in students’ performance in schools,” Baker says.
Baker says an ideas contest likely won’t lead to the major shifts in employment or housing opportunities for Milwaukee residents.
“But I think a challenge like this gives us the opportunity to have those conversations and look for creative ways to highlight potential solutions,” Baker says.
“It’s actually about beginning to see our diversity as our strength and I know that’s a long haul for us, but I think that we need to start someplace,” says organizer, Ken Hanson.
Planners are also recruiting filmmakers and songwriters to create works to help humanize segregation.
And the Wisconsin chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Art has made the campaign the centerpiece of its 100th anniversary celebration.
Challenge ideas must be submitted by September 7, 2014.