Racial equity committee starting to form plan
By Kynala Phillips
Fox Valley 365
BROWN COUNTY – Brown County’s Racial Equity Committee spent its June meeting discussing how the group can best utilize the knowledge and skills already at the table.
Three meetings in, the ad hoc committee has spent time networking with potential guest speakers and researching other local governments and nonprofits which have embarked on a similar fight against racial inequity.
The committee was formed by the Brown County Board of Supervisors in an effort to advance racial equity and support throughout the county.
The ad-hoc committee is charged with working for two years to produce recommendations to the board to make the county a more equitable place.
Several committee members said it’s time to evaluate each member’s skills and expertise so they have a clear picture of what gaps exist in their own collective knowledge, before bringing more people into the fold.
“We all do have a good skill set of knowledge and what we know,” committee member Louise Padron said. “[When] we know what we know, then we can determine what we don’t know and when we realize what we don’t know, we can bring in organizations to fill in that gap.”
Brown County District 5 Supervisor Amanda Chu said the committee is just an advising body, and the real decisions will be made once the committee hands over recommendations on racial equity to the county board.
“We’re doing the pre-work that will trickle up to the county board,” Chu said. “That’s our relationship with the county as an ad hoc committee.”
The committee is considering joining the Government Alliance on Racial Equity to accomplish its goals; however, there is some concern about whether GARE will be the best fit for the county.
“Every county has its own unique needs as well,” Committee Chair Pooja Bambha-Arora said, emphasizing although the committee might work with GARE, it needs to also work independently with the community to make sure Brown County’s needs are met.
Other GARE members in Wisconsin include Madison and Middleton, and Dane and Milwaukee counties.
In Milwaukee County, GARE supported the development of a racial budget tool which made each department use a racial equity lens to re-envision its budget priorities.
These budget tools had four objectives including diverse and inclusive workforce, people-focused design, employee perspective and equitable practice, according to a Frontiers in Public Health article authored by former Wisconsin Public Health Association Director-at-Large Lilliann Paine.
The committee is also reaching out to other counties to see how others have tackled this kind of work.
“Before we can set goals we have to know what the issues are,” committee member Tara Yang said.
Refugees in Brown County was one issue brought up by the Brown County Refugee Taskforce via an email sent to County Supervisor Megan Borchardt.
In 2019, the Trump administration required individual counties to approve refugee resettling.
The Green-Bay Press-Gazette reported the Brown County board voted unanimously to remain open to refugees in December 2019.
Each year, the county welcomes an average of 25 to 30 refugees, according to the report.
The task force said many of the refugees have reported they have unmet needs, and that this is especially true for groups from Myanmar, Korea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
There are between 1,272 and 5,093 refugees currently living in Brown County, according to a 2020 report by UW-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs.
The report found many people in the community still need help with essentials like employment, housing, access to food and public aid and school enrollment.
As one of the only Black men in his west Green Bay neighborhood, community member Breck Warren said he would like to see more understanding from his community.
Warren is a teacher in the Oneida Nation School System and got a chance to sit in on the June 28 committee meeting.
He said so far he is pleased with the direction of the committee.
“It seems like plans are being put into place and I can’t wait to see what the action plans are for the committee,” Warren said.
Moving forward, the committee plans to use future meetings to potentially work in small groups to problem-solve, pinpoint more issues and discuss the best workflow for the committee.
“Today was a really important opportunity to bring some focus to what we want to do,” Vice-Chair Rashad Cobb said.
Cobb said the group will focus on two major initiatives – bring in organizations and speakers to train the county, and focus on what kind of recommendations the committee will present to the county board.
“I feel a lot better than the last meeting,” committee member Jose Villa said, noting this meeting confirmed a process for the committee to work with. “We have a better orientation on how we will go about the goals.”