Like many of you, we were moved by the Rev. Alex Gee’s recent piece on racial inequality. We too believe that our beautiful city will only improve if we can address these issues, and we believe that the time to start is now.
We currently live in a city of inequities. Race and poverty, race and incarceration rates, as well as race and academic achievement are more linked in Madison than in just about any place in the entire country. We are glad that the issue is now on the forefront of everyone’s mind. It should be. The question that remains is how are we going to capture this moment and reinvent our city?
Madison has always been a community with strong values rooted in social justice, civic engagement, and political progress. In fact, a purported desire to act through the lens of these values is one of the reasons so many people love living here. So it may come as a surprise to some that the data show such staggering inequity. For all of the awards and recognition that Madison receives each year for being one of the best cities in which to live, we keep hearing from our constituents that they are embarrassed. They are ashamed that over the past 30 years we have let racial inequality become the norm here.
Fortunately, we are also a city with many amazing community leaders and passionate citizens. From personal experience, we are seeing a readiness to listen to the voices of leaders in the communities of color, with an understanding of alders' important role in shaping the city’s future.
As elected officials, we recognize that now is the time for us to take action. We need to help Madison make meaningful strides. Now. Here are just some immediate steps:
• Support employment training with a clear path to family-supporting jobs.
• Invest in early childhood education, such as collaboration with the county to increase the number of Early Childhood Initiative areas.
• Increase our availability of rental housing, especially affordable housing.
• Strengthen affordable and robust transportation options.
We can only improve our city if we are willing to work at it together. We all need to collaborate toward the same goals — the county, the city, the schools, the business community, the faith communities, our nonprofits, and our philanthropic partners. There is good news. As we talk to our friends and colleagues from these groups, they not only agree, but are also eager to help us tackle these difficult challenges.
We believe Madison is ready to work together. Whether you are a first-generation or eighth-generation Madisonian; whether you came here by way of immigration, education, employment, relationships or whatever other path, we all made a choice to live in this fine city. Clearly it is our job to ensure that 30 years from now, the next generation will look back and be proud of our leadership in this critical moment. We are ready to lead. We are ready to reinvent Madison.
Shiva Bidar-Sielaff and Maurice Cheeks are members of the Madison City Council.