|Vol. 10 No. 21
OCTOBER 15, 2015
A Moment of Change?
I keep thinking back to what Tori Pettaway, the city of Madison’s new equity coordinator, talked about in a story in this issue of The Hues. She
truly feels that this is moment that Madison is going to turn to a new chapter in its life, one in which it will reduce or eliminate the racial
disparities that it has experienced throughout its existence.
I love her sense of optimism and I hope that it will be proven to be true by future events in our community.
And maybe Tori is right. There have been different events and movements that have occurred, which have impacted our entire community at
the same time. If enough people experience something at the same time, then maybe together they can move forward to make the result a
We’ve had the Race to Equity report issued by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families two years ago, which seemed to have more
communitywide traction than the countless other reports on racial disparities had over the years. Perhaps it was the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’
s murder in Florida and the resulting rage and incredulity that made many in the Madison area more receptive to thinking about the hell that
African Americans and other people of color had been living with for centuries.
And there was Rev. Alex Gee’s column in The Capital Times that sparked local outrage and sparked some African American leaders to come
together to devise some strategies to solve the problems that plague the African American community. There was the sense that African
Americans are the experts on what ails them and are experts on the solutions to those problems. It was a call for the empowerment of the
African American community to solve its own problems and to be looked as assets and deficits in the community.
And then in response to the police-involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and other police-involved shootings of African Americans
for centuries, but didn’t get the press or the concern that Michael Brown’s generated, the Black Lives Matter movement sprung up on the UW-
Madison campus and other campuses and communities throughout the nation. The newly-formed Young Gifted & Black Coalition refused to let
Michael Brown’s death be in vain and continued to point to the possibility — along with the NAACP and other groups — that Ferguson could
And then it did when Tony Robinson was shot by a policeman last March and the greater Madison community was shocked and concerned that
it did happen here in spite of Madison being the bastion of liberalism. And the aftermath of Tony’s killing united the Madison community like a
Go Big Read is used to promote a UW-Madison campus wide look at a particular issue. In so many different quarters in Madison — from rich to
poor, from White to Black to Latino — people were talking about the same thing.
And then there have been the actions taken by our local governments. Two years ago, the city of Madison created the Racial Equity Social
Justice Initiative team to look at the city of Madison — both the government and the community — through a racial equity lens. And Pettaway’s
position was created to help implement the initiatives coming out of that committee.
And Dane County hired Tamara Grigsby last year to work on race equity issues and initiatives on a full-time basis. And in 2016, Dane County
Executive Joe Parisi will be creating the Office of Equity and Inclusion with Grigsby as its head. It will house elements of the Office of Equal
Opportunity as well as a new position.
And most importantly, I see a number of African American and Latino young professionals staying in Madison, committing themselves to
change Madison for the better and to be the drivers of that change. These are young people who are much more technically-skilled than I was at
their age and a lot more advantages that they can use to effect change. In some respects, the city is waiting to see what they do. It is their
sense of optimism and activism that is going to carry the day.
And I try to keep my thoughts to myself. I am, after all, 63-years-old and I am supposed to be cynical by now. I do consider myself to be a
realistic idealist in the sense I have always tried to conform my deeds to the big picture and what is just. But I also know that the world is not
going to conform to my sense of justice and right and wrong. These are things that we just need to work out and hash out together.
I remember back in the 1980s when I was working at the Urban League on E. Gorham Street. I was so fired up and idealistic and I thought we
were going to change the world. And then the 1990 census data came out and it hurt my heart that the needle on racial disparities had hardly
moved if it moved at all.
And then I was fired up over the 1990s because we had a prolonged economic expansion and Madison was growing by leaps and bounds and
certainly Euro-Americans had enough so that the growth would primarily benefit our communities of color. But when the 2000 census data
came out, my heart was hurt again. The needle hardly moved.
So to make change, it takes a lifetime of commitment. I like the fire in these young professionals today. I hope that fire makes this community
move where it should have moved some 30 years ago. Let’s see what we can do.
There sure have been a lot of awards handed out lately. And while it may seem to be too many at times, when I see who is receiving them, it
gives me hope for the future and I hope the awards and recognitions propel our young leaders to continue to do the right thing. So to all of those
who received Urban League, UW-Madison Outstanding Women, Community Shares of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Council on Children and
Families awards, we salute you!