The city of Milwaukee is working to boost minority hiring on its police and fire departments in an effort to promote better police and community relations. And it is promoting its fire Cadet and police Explorer programs as two paths to attract young people of color to those jobs.
"We know our relationships are broken," Milwaukee Police Capt. Raymond Banks told a crowd of about 50 mostly black men and boys at the kickoff for Milwaukee's third annual Boys and Men of Color Week on Monday at the Northcott Neighborhood House. "We need more people who look like us."
Milwaukee School Board President Mark Sain, who was second in command at the Fire Department when he retired, made a similar case for that agency.
"You probably didn't see a lot of folks who look like you," Sain said of the fire crews that respond to emergencies in predominantly
black and brown neighborhoods of the city.
"That's what we want to change."
Milwaukee's population is about 40% African-American, but blacks represent just 23% of its police department and 13% of its fire department. Both Sain and Banks are African-American.
In addition to the Cadet and Explorer programs, the agencies are developing pilot programs to expose students to those careers at a handful of Milwaukee public high schools.
The relationship between police and communities of color has been strained in Milwaukee as it has around the country by the shootings of black men and allegations of excessive force. Banks acknowledged that tension, but asked the men in attendance not to judge an entire force by the actions of a few.
"I don't want to be judged by my uniform," said Banks who told them he went into police work to "make a difference" in his community. "There are a lot of good officers in this community, and they want an opportunity to prove that to you."
The kickoff, by Milwaukee's Black Male Achievement Advisory Council, included updates on a number of other initiatives aimed at improving the lives of black men and boys in Milwaukee, which has been called one of the worst places in America for a black child to grow up in terms of opportunities and outcomes.
Joe'Mar Hooper, who leads community outreach efforts for Milwaukee Public Schools, said a regional effort to expand the number of mentors available to boys and young men of color is moving forward. Officials are exploring models across the country, working with a national nonprofit on a possible affiliation and laying the groundwork for the necessary fundraising.
Hooper said there is a gap of 800 between the number of young black men seeking mentors in Milwaukee County and mentors available to serve them. Creating a regional organization tasked with bridging that gap would cost between $250,000 and $400,000 annually, he said.
The mentoring initiative is a collaboration by the city and county, MPS and a broad array of business and civic partners as part of the White House's My Brothers Keeper initiative launched in 2014.
A draft of a five-year plan published by the advisory council this year proposes a broad range of objectives. Among them: increasing the high school graduation rate for young men of color and the number of those who are accepted into and complete post-secondary programs; improving access to health care; boosting their presence on nonprofit boards and ensuring the criminal justice system functions fairly.
Darryl Davidson of the Milwaukee Health Department said greater access to health care, and particularly preventive care, must be part of the broader efforts to improve the economy and remake the criminal justice system.
This year's Boys and Men of Color Week will climax with the 11th annual Milwaukee Fatherhood Summit, a program Mayor Tom Barrett launched in 2005 in an effort to address some of the barriers to men fulfilling their obligations as fathers. The event includes sessions on relationships, discipline, and the importance of academics.The summit runs 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and 7:30 a.m. to noon Saturday at Greater New Birth Church, 8237 W. Silver Spring Drive.