MILWAUKEE — Nine months after it's creation, Milwaukee's Office of Equity and Inclusion unveiled the work it's been doing to make a better Milwaukee for all.
"Although we have this office, it doesn't mean this office is responsible for all of the racial equity work in the city," Chief Equity Officer Nikki Purvis said. "If there is a program or a policy, we want to work with the departments and offices so that they have an understanding of how a program, policy or procedure might impact and what those impacts might be."
Purvis presented a slideshow to the Finance and Personnel Committee Wednesday afternoon. She detailed the last nine months of work to develop and implement an assessment template so her office can begin the process of evaluating every department and employee, one by one.
She was quick to point out though, the data they acquire and the programs that come from it will only be the start.
"It can't be two or three people in a department, but the responsibility of everyone in the city to make impactful change," Purvis said. "This is a cultural shift, not a check mark. It's a holistic approach that requires you tapping into a moral compass and do some naval gazing at how we'll have some impactful change."
So far, Purvis says racial equity and leadership training has been given to 88 senior leadership members of the city, including Mayor Tom Barrett, Common Council members and Milwaukee Fire Chief Aaron Lipski.
"Having the opportunity to work with Nikki Purvis has been a breath of fresh air," Lipski said. "To engage in these sorts of conversations with other department heads and have our own command staff brought into this fold, to have these discussions in a real and unapologetic manner, both speaking and listening, receiving information, I would otherwise not have a tremendous amount of personal insight on. I come from where I come from, I am who I am. Nikki Purvis has made it something, not only do we all know is necessary, but it makes you want to get involved and start taking actions to solve these issues."
The reflection has allowed Lipski to take a harder look at what he can do to lead his department to being more equitable. A big part of that is a more diverse staff.
According to data from the Office of Equity and Inclusion, the current demographics of the City of Milwaukee is:
- 37.8 percent African American
- 32.3 percent white
- 20.1 percent Hispanic/Latino
- 5.2 percent Asian
- 4.6 percent Other
The General City Employees are close, but not exactly along those demographics:
- 51.5 percent white
- 36.3 percent African American
- 9.0 percent Hispanic/Latino
- 2.1 percent Asian
- 1.1 percent Other
But in the Fire Department, it's not even close:
- 72.1 percent white
- 15.5 percent Black
- 9.9 percent Hispanic/Latino
- 2.6 percent other
It's something Chief Lipski is focused on.
"It's absolutely no secret that fire departments across the nation have forever struggled with achieving or maintaining anything that a reasonable citizen would look at and label as diverse," Lipski said. "The City of Milwaukee is hands down the most diverse city in the State of Wisconsin and, as such, the fire department should look more like the city. We should have more city-based representation by firefighters, paramedics, all the way up and through the office of the Chief of the Fire Department."
It's a focus of his in finding the best and brightest first responders for the city.
But it won't just be their prowess with a water hose that gets them the job.
"At the end of the day, everybody needs to be able to drag hose line in and throw ladders up on buildings, cut cars apart, drag people," Lipski said. "Everybody has to be able to do all of these things. It's a pretty unique set of characteristics we're looking for. I need firefighters. I need EMTs. I need people that can go out in 2021, almost 2022, into society and if you look outside the firehouse door sometimes, society is having its own issues. We have to help everybody. Let's maximize that through very basic inclusive atmosphere. At the end of the day, if we're looking at it from a factory point of view, let's make sure the items I'm pushing out at the other end of this factory are as appealing as possible to the greatest number of customers. It's going to enhance communication, responder safety and going to make us more effective."
"New employee orientation is one of the items we'll be discussing," Purvis said of the work still needed. "How do we revamp that and infuse the importance of racial equity in the orientation?"
Purvis says the assessment template is still being finalized but should be available for all departments and employees by the end of January. She hopes to have the first results by July.
At that point, the City of Milwaukee will be able to implement its game plan to try and create a Milwaukee for all from the inside, out. Because if the people who literally make the city operate can do their job through a racially equitable lens, it should make for a better, more inclusive Milwaukee.
"It really does require a different type of thought process for people to think more strategically about how our programs and our policies are impacting or having an adverse impact on the community we serve," Purvis said.