Creating pipelines and pathways to opportunity

Destruction or dependency, not an option


Governor Scott Walker recently announced $4.5 million for economic development in Milwaukee in response to a lack of economic opportunity.

I’ve been working on pathway to opportunities for years. Making this moment count means leveraging these dollars for economic wealth building to create pathways from dependency. Unless we do, we are building dependency and putting money into holes. To be responsible with this money, it should come with strings attached. There should be no blank check for the $4.5 million.

Now, I don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, I look him in the eye. That’s why, when Governor Walker announced $4.5 million in economic development funds for Milwaukee, I stood with him.

But I also don’t believe in blank checks. When my son asks for money, I don’t just give it to him, I ask what he needs it for.

Governor Walker has pledged $4.5 million for:

  • $1.5 million for employment programs through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
  • $2 million for demolition, deconstruction or rehabilitation of blighted properties.
  • $1 million for Wisconsin Fast Forward to create more employer-based job training programs.

But Milwaukee is a big city, and it wasn’t just Sherman Park that rose up a few weeks ago. It was the entire African American community. So how do we use these economic development funds to actually turn some lives around?

My plan is simple:

First, we need to leverage this opportunity to make sure every single effort maximizes each dollar we spend. For example, don’t just outsource to some company from outside of the city to come in and demolish some blighted homes. I’m not for destruction. Instead, let’s use the dollars to train unemployed workers in a job skill right in their own neighborhoods.

Second, we need to target this work to the areas that are most in need. Fortunately, these data driven zones have already been mapped out Milwaukee’s four most challenged neighborhoods through “Promise Zones.” These are areas of the city where poverty and crime stand taller than hope and opportunity, and we need to reverse that trend by creating economic wealth.

Third, we need to break down the silos through hubs. Government needs to work together with other state agencies, community organizations and even businesses. If the Department of Financial Institutions is going to take on the blighted properties, it should partner with the Department of Workforce Development or the House of Corrections to find and train the workers. If DWD is going to create a “mobile response” effort through Employ Milwaukee, it should partner with schools, libraries, churches and wherever they can to do the work. If we are going to spend over a million dollars on Fast Forward and TANF, we should create pipelines to industry, not just sporadic job training.

Finally, we need consistency. You won’t solve generations of racial segregation and create economic opportunity overnight. Here today and gone tomorrow isn’t going to help our community. We need to create sustainable pipelines to opportunity, not pipelines to prison. That’s why I’ll continue to work as a member of the state budget committee to secure a continuous funding stream for these efforts, because $4.5 million is only a small start to a generations-long problem.

I don’t mean no harm and I appreciate the funding for our city, but it’s going to take more than a few million bucks to heal Milwaukee. It’ll take a massive investment to help black families achieve the American Dream far too many of us have given up on long ago. We also need to heal our community-police relationship that gets worse every time another black man has a negative interaction with law enforcement.

Now, I don’t just talk the talk, I do the work. That’s why I’m putting together a summit to discuss how to create hubs and align services to improve our neighborhoods on September 29th from 5:30-7:30pm. If you’d like to RSVP for The Summit for Milwaukee’s Future, please rsvp via email to  

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