Reckoning with the Past, Writing the Future – Thoughts on Black History Month
Every year, the month of February offers us a chance to reflect on the paradox of Black history in the United States – the paradox that slavery is the original sin of the American experiment, and that despite the many ways that structural, systemic and interpersonal racism have so profoundly impacted them, Black Americans have so positively designed and shaped our institutions, traditions, culture, ideas and our very democracy in deep and meaningful ways.
Over the centuries, Black voices have called for a reckoning for past injustices and assurances of security for the future. As City government, it is our responsibility to listen and respond in a way that promotes the priorities of our African American residents and visitors. While honoring the accomplishments of individuals is important, it is also important to learn from history, and strive to do better.
When I decided to enter the race for Mayor, I made racial equity and social justice a priority in my campaign, vowing to keep this key principle as an important platform throughout my administration. We have made progress, although there is always more to do.
As a part of my equitable vision for the future and my commitment to addressing historically and systemically entrenched racial injustice here in our Madison community, I have authorized the creation of an Equity and Social Justice Division within the Department of Civil Rights. A newly hired Division Manager that will have oversight for our Racial Equity and Social Justice work within City Hall and in the broader community, our Neighborhood Resource Teams, our Disability Rights and Services Program, and our Language Access Plan leaders are leading this work.
We are working to make sure that our workforce, and the membership of City committees, reflect our community, and draw on a broad array of experience. To that end, the majority of positions we post are analyzed with our equitable hiring tool first. I evaluate all department heads on their work on racial equity, with the expectation that they incorporate these values into their work plans and management. And the City has improved our internal accountability systems to address racial bias and discrimination in the workplace.
This year, we invested $2.5M in the Small Business Equity and Recovery (SBER) Program, which will help many black entrepreneurs through our current COVID crisis, while starting to build longer-term wealth through our commercial ownership assistance efforts. I also support the use of SBER funding to facilitate pre-development work related to the Center for Black Excellence, a much needed business and cultural hub to be located in South Madison. And we are actively working to incorporate equity measures in to our contracting processes, to shift more spending to businesses owned by people of color.
We are investing in workforce development and training programs, such as our Green Power program, which trains people underrepresented in the building trades to install solar panels and efficient lighting systems, setting them on a path to a family-supporting job. We’ve also increased investment in youth employment programs, to improve access to opportunity for young people in our community.
I have approved plans to create a program targeting support for developers of color in Madison. Our City has funded participation for a pilot group of five individuals in the Associates in Commercial Real Estate (ACRE) program. I am looking forward to the creation of a robust program that will seed development expertise within our communities of color and, literally, change the landscape for years to come. It is important that, as we enact strong progressive policies in Madison, we center racial equity and actively work to dismantle white supremacy in this country. This is a moment in time that we can leverage to transform our City.
I stand committed to implementing meaningful, positive change so that we learn from the painful lessons of the past, and design a future where our African American families, neighbors, and friends are prosperous, protected, and able to pursue happiness in ways that hold the most meaning for them.