Milwaukee County Board candidate’s question has an obvious answer
by Michael L. Brox,
Candidate for Milwaukee County Supervisor,
My name is Michael Brox many of you may know me as the Founder of Milwaukee’s Afro Fest. Even though festivals are important events in our city, there is a matter of much greater importance that must be addressed.
“What could that be?” you might ask. My answer to that question is JOBS. I can recall as a young child in the early 1960’s walking to school with my friends, and my brothers and sisters (we used to do that back in the day) and seeing men working on road or building construction sites early in the morning.
The one thing I’d always notice about these sites was the workers were always white males. Even at a young age I thought this was peculiar. “Where were the brothers?” I’d ask myself.
This scenerio didn’t change as I became older. There were still no African Americans, or other minorities working on the job sites. We knew that these were good paying jobs because these white guys always looked as if they were enjoying themselves. Often times, I see them working well into the night on a project.
Yet my father, uncle and their friends would have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. So, I would think to myself (because back then children wouldn’t dare get into grown folks business): “Why don’t these African American men just go and get jobs working on these construction sites with these white guys? If they did, all their problems would be solved!”
I later learned that was easier said then done. There was one big factor that came into play preventing by dad, uncle and their friends from working on these good paying construction jobs. That factor was DISCRIMINATION!
After many years of fighting for—and finally winning—our civil rights, our people were finally (so we thought) in a position to take advantage of and enjoy the same advantages as the majority (White) population.
One of those advantages was full access to the means of production in our great society–the job market. Since the 1960’s, states counties, and cities have experimented with “goals” or “requirements” that induce government agencies to set aside some portion of contracts for minority and female workers and/or business owners.
However, this was not always the case. Here we are 50 years later and our community is having the same conversation as our grandchildren witness the same kind of discrimination I witnessed as a child.
This discrimination is not restricted to the construction site. There is discrimination in other institutions such as schools, private business and government facilities.
In all fairness, I’ll admit to seeing a few minorities at some work sites; but by no means in significant enough numbers to quell the jobless crisis in our community.
Even the few strides minorities made as a result of civil rights legislation have been severely negated. Racial preference programs that require state and local agencies to set aside a portion of their contracts for minorities have been dogged by lawsuits or the threat of lawsuits.
Thirty percent of Milwaukee’s construction spending—both city and county—is supposed to go to minority contractors. But, where’s the beef? Where were the set-a-sides for the hundreds of millions of dollars spent constructing the Marquette Interchange project downtown? More importantly, where was the outcry from our own Black elected officials demanding that 30%?
No project so glaringly illustrates the lack of minority participation on the $200 million Westlawn Housing Redevelopment Project located on Sixtieth Street and Silver Spring Drive.
MICAH (Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope), and other community and civil rights organizations have called on Mayor Tom Barrett, Common Council President Willie Hines and officials with the Milwaukee Housing Authority to be more inclusive of minorities on that housing project. The groups asked that 40% of the unemployed and underemployed residents of Westlawn be added to the project’s workforce.
They have also called for 25% of the contracts to go to minority contractors and subcontractors. To me, these are not unreasonable demands, especially since the majority of individuals living at Westlawn are African American.
The achievement of entrepreneurial parity, which would reverse the social and economic inequities suffered by the minority community should be, in my opinion, the ultimate goal.
Minority citizens of this city and state must realize it is time for a change in the way business is done in this city. We now have an opportunity to stand together and make that change. If we don’t stand together and exert our rights, it will be more of the same and you know that old saying: ” The more things change, the more things stay the same.”