Once again, Milwaukee and Wisconsin people are talking to one another from all walks of life including diverse professions, religions, cultural and economic backgrounds, and neighborhoods about the need for drastic change, honest examination, and action. Only this time it isn’t about racial segregation in our city, and it isn’t the racial disparities for Black children, it is the disturbing rate of mass incarceration of African American males in Milwaukee and Wisconsin and
what are we as a community going to do about it. Hosted by the Helen Bader Foundation, a fourth in a series panel discussion on incarceration of black males and its profound impact took place at their Third Ward offices, this time to explore the connection between incarceration and access to employment opportunities. Other topics held prior to this month’s discussion included: Incarceration and Education; Incarceration and Families, and Incarceration and Youth. According to panelist Dr. Lois Quinn, Senior Scientist, Employment and Training Institute at UW-Milwaukee and co-author of the report released in 2013, she confirms Milwaukee County as having more than half of African American men in their 30’s and half of Black men in their early 40’s having been incarcerated in state correctional facilities, and Wisconsin’s unenviable distinction of having the highest per capital incarceration rate of African American males in the nation with similar disturbing trend mirrored in the Milwaukee area. “We know that we have real issues and we want to try to move the conversation and make real change and policy among each other,” Jerry Roberts said. And just then, Muhibb Dyer and Kwabena Antoine Nixon came out with powerful poetry that left everyone moved to strong applause.
In addition to Dr. Quinn, speakers on the subject of Incarceration and Workforce included Centro Legal Executive Director Heather Ramirez. Centro Legal provides low cost bilingual legal services and helps people who do not qualify for a public defender or cannot afford a traditional attorney with misdemeanor defense. Leroy Maclin, Online Sales Director for Milwaukee Working, spoke openly about the difference Milwaukee Working made on his life. “I come from a rough background, and I’ve paid my dues and served jail time. Milwaukee Working gave me the brotherly love and sisterly love I was in need of in addition to the opportunity to work – that changed me.” One of the most powerful stories of the afternoon came from Kalan Haywood, Sr., founder and president of Vangard Group. At one time, Kalan served time in the corrections system and he spoke candidly about that experience: “We (Vangard Group) deal with some very inspiring and unique developments. We take pride in taking on projects in some very challenging areas in 26 U.S. markets, projects that people don’t take on. “Often, people come to us and they may have a felony and we try and find a way to help them get over that hurdle rather than saying no because I know how that feels. Those people may come from broken homes, battered homes, being thugs and bad kids during their youth. I was not like that. I came from a strong home life, and found that academics were always easy for me. I went to good schools, Golda Meir and went on to UWM. And part of that skill set could be used to start a company like the Vangard Group or being a successful CEO in my neighborhood. I was raised by my grandmother. Along the way most of the men in my family were criminals, the teachers cared about me and at home they cared about me but I would spend half my day at UWM and the other half of my day in my neighborhood. I found more enjoyment in my east side neighborhood being a CEO. “One day, I got pulled over by cops that are now friends of mine, for possession of cocaine and a firearm. Judge Maxine White she saved my life. She convicted me and sent me to state prison. “Prison changed me. I got out of jail but you get out and you go back to the same friends, same zip code, address, and your environment hasn’t changed. I went right back to it. Prison is a badge of honor in your neighborhood because my friends would say my uncle did it, my cousin did it, my brother did it. “My turning point was when Tyrone Dumas gave me my first job with the City of Milwaukee Department of Building bridges. He was like a father figure to me, he cared about me. You get tired. My son was the inspiration to me. How does an individual get to that point that I did? It is our environment. So, for us as Black males, we have to show success to our young brothers and show them school is cool, hard work is cool, owning a house is cool, having a job and owning a car is cool.”
“Our foundation’s mission is to improve the quality of life in the community. We (The Helen Bader Foundation) believe that Milwaukee is a city of opportunity and hope where other folks say there is none,” Jerry Roberts expressed eloquently. “We fund the organizations and we fund the efforts that drive and look at barrier issues and we bring people together to seek solutions to make impactful outcomes.”