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Reflections
LGM26 class members took time in March to get the "lay of the land" on some key topics of interest, thanks to some generous speakers who shared their experiences and expertise. This overview session will help lay the groundwork for the "deep dive" the class will take during the course of the year. Click below to read reflections on the session from Mindy Winter, Kwasi Obeng and Kristin Gilkes.  

“Carp”e Diem

Mindy Winter, Madison Police Department

On Tuesday, March 26, the LGM26 class gathered for our second session and we immediately seized the opportunity to learn, reflect, and act. Our session opened by sharing “a-ha” moments each member experienced since our first session and a few common themes emerged, one of which was carp and their effect on local waters. The carp made me think of the Latin aphorism, “carpe diem,” which I think our group applies well in our meetings and work together. Our group then parlayed the “a-ha” moments discussion into an opportunity to seize the time left in our day to learn as much as possible from our five compelling guest speakers: Dr. Sheila Briggs, Mr. Jackson Fonder, Ms. Lynn Green, Mr. Dan Kennelly, and Ms. Geraldine (Gery) Paredes Vasquez. These speakers artfully presented on topics ranging from education to homelessness, from economic development to human services, from race to equity. As I listened to each of these individuals present information to us, it was crystal clear to me that each of these community stakeholders seized opportunities throughout their respective careers—the lengthiest of which was Ms. Green’s 50 years with Dane County Department of Human Services—to positively impact our community and to make a difference in the lives of many individuals. Each of our guest speakers inspired me to seek out and seize more opportunities to connect with my community and to get more engaged in my neighborhood. Additionally, the information our guest speakers shared sets our LGM class on a good path to seize our learning opportunities throughout the duration of LGM26 and beyond. Carpe Diem!

Shocked but Optimistic
Kwasi K. Obeng, City of Madison

I am shocked: Two things stood out to me during the presentation on Education in Wisconsin. The racial disparity numbers in Wisconsin are mind blowing. First, 90% of all African Americans in the state living in just 6 Counties out of 72 counties in the entire state is incredible. It speaks to the lack of diversity in the State and begs the question of why people of color either do not want to move to Wisconsin or stay in Wisconsin. With respect to the achievement gap, the fact that Black students who do not qualify for free or reduced lunches (FRL) are doing significantly worse than White students receiving FRL was disheartening as I question the systemic and institutional barriers creating this. Secondly, I could not believe that once a parent signs a letter to homeschool their child, there is no accountability with respect to the quality of education the child gets or even if the child receives an education at all. It would take someone close to the family to make a report to social services if educational neglect was taking place. It sounds to me like some major advocacy on the state level needs to take place to protect our children. There is so much talk in state legislatures about protecting unborn children and not much being done to protect the children once they are born.

Poverty is really on the rise: A running theme among the Education presentation, the Homelessness presentation and the Social Services presentation is that poverty is on the rise in the Madison area. It is scary to think there is no security being in the “middle class.” Many people are a crisis away from homelessness and needing public assistance and even if you are in the “middle class,” particularly if you are a person of color, getting an education does not provide security from becoming poor or subject to the reality of racial disparities. It also seems to me that some of the barriers to progress are in the systemic way in which there are financial and political incentives for curing problems and not preventing them. There are systems in place to ensure that some problems will always exist so there is funding to attempt to fix them. Whether it is to receive federal funds or grants for programs or attempts to secure campaign contributions and in effect, ensure re-election, from those claiming to have the remedy to society’s ailments rather than working to ensure that our communities are not “sick” to begin with.

I am optimistic: Being a City employee, it was very encouraging to hear reaffirmations of the role of city government in facilitating the diversity of entrepreneurs and trying to advance equity in the market place. I was also encouraged that we live in an area where people are genuinely looking for answers. I need to volunteer more. Even the CEO of Catholic Charities finds time to work on the frontlines in a homeless day shelter and the Executive Director of the Goodman Community Center is willing to sweep floors if that is what is required. My cohorts are pushing themselves to think about what it means to have diversity, inclusion and equity both in their personal lives and in the work place. We have no excuses to be like these transformational leaders who took time to speak to us. We should become a beacon for others to take on the same challenge of making the Madison area better for all people. I do wish that we had more time with the presentation of diversity and inclusion and to process a bit more. It felt a bit like a teaser or food for thought.

Hearing from ‘The Helpers’
Kristin Gilkes, Customers First! Coalition

The second session of LGM26 helped shine a light on poverty, homelessness, and education issues in Dane County. There are significant, systematic challenges to be addressed, and we heard from some of the people making it their life’s work to make meaningful change and improve the lives of others. The speakers we heard from reminded me of a quote from Fred Rogers. He said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Our second session speakers were the “helpers.” We heard from Sheila Briggs, Assistant State Superintendent – Division for Academic Excellence, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Some of the challenges she presented included quickly growing poverty in rural Wisconsin school districts; the nearly two thirds of Wisconsin school districts with declining enrollments; the school funding system in light of new programs like vouchers for private school attendees; and racial disparities in performance outcomes. Briggs said the Department of Public Instruction will continue striving toward excellence for all students despite these challenges.

Jackson Fonder, President & CEO, Catholic Charities, is leading an organization which runs “The Beacon,” a day-shelter in downtown Madison for homeless individuals who seek resource assistance. The Beacon offers services such as helping homeless individuals obtain funds for a security deposit; banking; transportation to and from work; trauma counseling; and other important services. Challenges that still need to be addressed include security for visitors and staff; neighborhood concerns; and finding long-term storage and overnight housing for homeless individuals.

Dan Kennelly, Economic Development Specialist, City of Madison Office of Business Resources, helped the group understand more about tax incremental financing and economic growth in Dane County. He mentioned financing tools for clean energy projects and adding inventory as a strategy for bringing down the cost of housing. Educating and preparing the Dane County workforce for the available jobs is a key challenge.

Lynn Green, Director, Dane County Human Services, shared more about the department she has run for decades. She mentioned something I found insightful in that counties are funded by regressive taxes such as property and sales taxes. The state and federal government can levy more progressive taxes, such as the income tax. This creates a bit of a conundrum as the county provides services for low income populations. She also said something I thought was important. Policy-makers shouldn’t make assumptions about what people need. Ask them what would really be helpful before making those decisions. As we attempt to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty, teaching life skills will be essential.

Edith Hilliard, Executive Assistant, Goodman Community Center, treated our group to a tour of the Goodman Community Center and the outstanding work they are doing to provide a truly warm and welcoming community space which provides programs and services for the neighborhood. The Goodman Community Center has everything from a culinary arts kitchen; to a middle and high school hangout room and after school programs; a transitional school area which facilitates education for about 20-25 kids from East High School; a senior area with coffee, meals, entertainment, and resources like tax preparation services; a fitness center that is open to the public for a fee; an art gallery featuring local art; classrooms for young children; a food pantry; a gym with activities and programs; an outdoor science lab, and last but not least, chickens! This community center is a robust example of a public-private partnership made possible by donations from area organizations.

Geraldine (Gery) Paredes Vasquez, Gender & Equity Director, YWCA Madison, took us outside of our comfort zone to a growth zone and learning space. Together we discussed a self-sustaining system of inequality that needs intentional interruption in order to change. There is a real history of policy discrimination against minority groups in our nation, and facilitating diversity, inclusion, and equity takes work. One way to individually respond is to recognize our similarities with each other instead of focusing on our differences. In the spirit of recognizing our similarities, to close the day, smaller groups raced to come up with a list of eight similarities that united each member of the group. As a result of this playful exercise, I learned that many in LGM26 have an iPhone, live in Dane County, drive a car, and like pizza. I think it’s also safe to say we are united in appreciation for the “helpers” who shared their experiences with us during our second session as a group.
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