MILWAUKEE — The proposed Milwaukee County budget for 2022 includes changing the name of the Office on African American Affairs (OAAA) to the Office of Equity.
The OAAA was created in 2017 to examine the needs of the African American community, create policy, advise policymakers and promote equitable access. But the current director, Jeff Roman, said in order to follow through with that original mission, changes need to be made.
"If we really want to commit to being an anti-racist organization, our structure needed to change so that the burden was not on the backs of African Americans, and really focus on the system and the system level work that's happening," Roman said. "That allows us to continue the mission and the work of the office on African American Affairs, but also allows us to have a greater, broader infrastructure so that there is a level of accountability for all of Milwaukee to achieve racial equity."
But concerns have been raised that the name change will take away from the Black community in Milwaukee.
City Alderman Khalif Rainey wrote a letter expressing his concerns to County Executive David Crowley. Rainey helped develop the OAAA while serving on the county board.
In the letter, Rainey calls the decision a "terrible mistake," and said, "I know why the office exists. I worked for years to see it created. I lived the racism, segregation, crime, and poverty that afflicts our community long enough to know that the needs of our people are unique and in need of particular attention."
However, Roman said the name change won't diminish or take away from the work the office is doing within Milwaukee's African American community.
"We're so focused on the name and not on the work. What this change does is allows us to have greater capacity, greater investment and quite frankly more expertise staff to be able to come in and create a structure and a foundation to do the work that the Office on African American Affairs was created to do," Roman said.
Going forward, Roman said the office of equity will focus on four pillars:
- Continuing the work of the OAAA
- Research and policy advocacy and analysis
- Community outreach and engagement
- Equity strategy and innovation