ON-Lion Letter

"In a January article comparing the economic status of the black community in 52 of the nation's largest metropolitan areas, policy expert Joel Kotkin ranked Atlanta and Washington, D.C., among cities with the most prosperous black populations and ranked Milwaukee dead last," begins a February Milwaukee Journal Sentinel op-ed by Bradley Prize recipient Robert L. Woodson, Sr.  "Some may wonder whether there are lessons to be learned from high-ranked cities that could be applied to cities at the bottom of the list.

"It is really impossible to compare the economic plight of blacks in Milwaukee to those residing in other metropolitan areas, given the divergent demographic histories of African-Americans in Midwestern cities and those in the South and North," according to Woodson.  "While 100 years ago, cities such as Atlanta and Washington, D.C., had large black populations, black migration to Wisconsin was slow to develop due to the type of employment needs of industries at that time. In 1910, Milwaukee's black population was 980; by 1930, it was still under 10,000."

Woodson is founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE) in Washington, D.C.  His article was originally written for the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI) in Milwaukee.

"The lesson is not what the black community in one city can teach another," he writes, "but what black Americans today can learn from their predecessors.  A key ingredient that explains the ability of the black community to strive and succeed -- in spite of hardships imposed by the forces of racism in all of its manifestations -- was a spirit of self-determination.

"Today, there are several not-for-profit organizations in the city of Milwaukee that continue the tradition of promoting self-reliance and self-determination as keys to success," Woodson continues.  "For example, the Running Rebels community organization on the north side has been working tirelessly to engender the civic and cultural renewal that is equipping people for upward mobility.  The Milwaukee Christian Center on the south side also is providing training based on the values that allowed black communities in earlier times to prosper."

Milwaukee's Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation supports CNE, WPRI, the Running Rebels group, and the Milwaukee Christian Center.

"For those who are concerned with the economic situation of black communities today," Woodson concludes, "it would be more effective to recognize and support initiatives such as these, rather than look through the lens of comparison and disparity."

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