A week has passed since the death of Sylville Smith in Sherman Park. I am in no position to comment on the details of the events that led to his killing, or its aftermath. But I do think it is imperative that we see these tragic events within a larger context, a context that extends beyond the north side of Milwaukee, to the state of Wisconsin as a whole.
A week prior to Mr. Smith’s death, Wisconsin was again cited as the Worst State for Black Americans. This time it was in a study released by 24/7 Wall St., an on-line financial news and opinion company (which was also picked up in the Milwaukee Business Journal). This study took into account ten measures, including median income, unemployment, college graduation rates, and home ownership. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Wisconsin has been cited as the worst place for black Americans. WCCF’s own Race for Results report in 2014 highlighted that Wisconsin’s black children face long odds in achieving success, as they rank the worst in the nation on a combination of measures of child well-being. And there are other studies showing Wisconsin is the worst, including in the imprisonment of African American men and African American male unemployment.
It is within this larger context that we must consider our collective response to the events in Sherman Park. There is no doubt a great deal of work to be done within Milwaukee, and those of us outside of Milwaukee should take our lead from community members and local leaders. And it is also my view that in light of the larger context described above, Milwaukee cannot address all of its challenges on its own. We must work together—Black, Latino, Asian, American Indian, and White—within Milwaukee and across the state. Our fates are intertwined and we all have a role to play.
There is never an ok time to be silent about the disparities that exist and how they impact us all, whether we like to think about it or not. And while there has been plenty of media coverage of this most recent tragedy, there has been very little said by our key policy-makers about what our state should do to address the underlying dynamic that leads to our repeated “worst-in-the-nation” status. That has to change.
Someone much more eloquent than I describes equity this way: Just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. Unlocking the promise of the nation by unleashing the promise in us all. That is our great challenge, and that is our great reward. The future of our state depends on it.
Ken Taylor, Executive Director