Milwaukee Christian Leaders Bridge Racial Divide In Effort to Address City’s Problems

Bishop Walter Harvey
Bishop Walter Harvey

Milwaukee-area Christian leaders are coming together across racial, denominational and county lines in a new effort to address some of the myriad problems — violence, poverty, mass incarcerations and more — confronting the poor and minorities in the city of Milwaukee.

A dozen pastors and ministers representing several traditions met for an inaugural discussion last week and have launched a Facebook page called “Racial Reconciliation” to communicate on initiatives.

“We wanted to start a conversation about how we stand together across the racial divides in this city,” said the Rev. Matt Erickson of Eastbrook Church, who organized the meeting with his friend, Bishop Walter Harvey of Parklawn Assembly of God.

Harvey, who is black, welcomed the interest and inclusion of pastors from Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, the largest non-denominational Christian church in southeastern Wisconsin and predominantly white.

“What’s unusual, what we saw the other day, is the urban-suburban connection,” Harvey said. “Here’s a congregation that really wants to know how can we improve the city of Milwaukee.”

Milwaukee is, in many ways, a tale of two cities.

One of the largest communities on the Great Lakes, it is home to major corporations in finance, manufacturing, brewing, printing and other industries. It boasts a thriving dining and entertainment scene and six- and seven-figure condos that overlook a dazzling Lake Michigan.

But life for many is dire in this minority-majority city, ranked by Time magazine last fall as the second-poorest city in America, behind Detroit. The statistics paint a devastating picture.

Milwaukee is the center of what has been ranked the most segregated metro area in the country. Nearly a third of the city’s residents, including four in 10 children, lived in poverty in 2012, according to the U.S. census. Eighty percent of children in its public schools qualify for free or reduced-fee meals. And it has been ranked the worst place in America for racial disparities between black and white children.

In a city that once was home to a thriving black middle class, many African-Americans lost family-supporting jobs as globalization and the Great Recession decimated manufacturing in Wisconsin. And new job growth in the state has been primarily in low-wage occupations, according to a 2014 study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Today, Milwaukee’s unemployment rate for black men ages 25 to 54 tops 50%. Wisconsin imprisons more black men as a percentage of its population than any state in the country, most of them out of Milwaukee County. A 2013 study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee showed half of all black men in the county in their 30s had spent time in state prison.

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SOURCE: Journal Sentinel
Annysa Johnson

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