Milwaukee County Declares Racism a Public Health Crisis

A Milwaukee County executive signed a resolution on May 20 declaring racism to be a public health crisis. Executive Chris Abele said the resolution represents a public commitment to take action in racial disparities. During the resolution signing, Abele said the county leads “in an unfortunate way the racial disparities in employment, in education, incarceration, income and even things like… access to capital,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“It is Milwaukee County’s responsibility to address racism, including seeking solutions to reshape the discourse, actively engaging all citizens in racial justice work,” Abele said in a statement. “Local government needs to take a leadership role and we intend to do so.” In 2016, Abele and the County Board created the Office on African American Affairs to help address the county’s racial inequities. Since its creation, the office has trained all county leaders on racial equity and plans to train all 4,000 employees in 2019.

The Office on African American Affairs also launched a new racial equity ambassador program with almost 60 employees who work on racial equity action planning for the county, the Office of the County Executive said in its statement. Abele was joined at the resolution signing by county supervisors Marcelia Nicholson and Supreme Moore Omokunde, as well as Nicole Brookshire, the director of the Office on African American Affairs.

“We understand that Milwaukee’s racial inequities are historical, complex, and interrelated. That’s why we need everyone at the table as we work to move the needle towards empowerment and employing good government strategies to tackle the comprehensive issues experienced by many African Americans in Milwaukee,” Brookshire said in a statement.

Brookshire told a group at her office that racism needs to be addressed as a public health crisis “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,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The director did not respond to The North Star’s request for further comment.

Abele’s office noted that African Americans and Native Americans have the highest excess death rates in Wisconsin and that the state holds one of the highest infant mortality rates for African Americans in the country. Milwaukee County is the most populous county in the state.

A 2018 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics found that the rate of infant deaths for Black babies in Wisconsin was nearly three times that of white babies. The report found that the infant mortality rate for babies born to non-Hispanic Black women in Wisconsin was 14.3 deaths per 1,000 babies between 2013 and 2015. The national average was 11.1 for that same group. “It’s imperative that we do the work to heal Milwaukee’s racial wounds. We’ll be on the right side of history as we rewrite the text for what it means to group up as a Milwaukeean,” County Board Vice Chairwoman Nicholson said in a statement. “We cannot rest until every citizen is treated with dignity and respect and this resolution is a step in that direction.”

Under the new resolution, Milwaukee County will assess internal policy and procedures to ensure racial equity is a “core” element of the county and work to increase diversity across the county workforce and in leadership positions. It will also incorporate inclusion and equity into organizational practice and offer educational trainings to help employees understand how racism affects people.

Milwaukee County also promises to advocate for relevant policies to improve health in communities of color as well as encourage other local, state, and national organizations to recognize racism as a public health crisis.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.