City Council meeting on F-35 proposal (copy)

A sign outside the City-County Building Tuesday expressing opposition to the proposal to locate F-35 fighter jets in Madison. 

I moved to Madison during the winter of 2007. Within a few weeks of the move, racism showed its horrible self, and my rose-colored glasses were promptly removed.

From being told to “go back to Chicago” (we’re from Milwaukee) by two drunk white men in a shared ride cab to racial slurs thrown at my son as he walked down State Street, I realized quickly that being Black in Madison, in essence, would be an unsettling experience for us.

In the time since I’ve lived in the greater Madison area, I have centered my work on helping to restore Black families, with a laser focus on improving the livelihood of Black women, as we are often the single income earners in our families. This work has led me to create a leadership conference and a Black business expo and, most recently, to open the Progress Center for Black Women. As you might imagine, the work is both rewarding and heavy. Here are a few facts that drive me to center Black families:

• With a gender wage gap at 57 cents on the dollar, Black women in Dane County earn $15,000 less annually than white women, and $23,000 less than white men. 

• In Wisconsin, three of 10 African American families live in poverty. In absolute terms, this level of poverty is the second-highest in the nation. Only Iowa has a higher rate of African American poverty (32.2%). Compare this to the 6% of the state’s white families that live in poverty. Wisconsin’s black families are 5.3 times more likely than white families to live in poverty. That disparity in poverty outcomes is the second-highest in the nation.

• “…only 18 percent of Madison’s third grade African American students were proficient or advanced in reading, compared to 67 percent of their white peers,” according to a May 2019 Isthmus report.

• “African-American individuals in families are 27 times more likely to be homeless than white individuals in families. And while Dane County’s population is 5% black, black people make up almost 40% of Dane County Jail system bookings," according to a May 2019 Cap Times report.

• “By 2016, due to a reduction in median income combined with rising rents, the typical Black household could only afford the typical rent in two areas — one in North and one in South Madison,” according to a city analysis.

After becoming educated about the noise impacts and environmental racism detailed in the recently released draft environmental impact statement, I stand in firm opposition to stationing the new F-35 Lightning II with Wisconsin 115th Fighter Wing at Truax Air National Guard Base in Madison. As documented in the EIS: “There would be significant disproportionate impacts to low-income and minority populations as well as children. The increase in noise exposure near the airport would disproportionately impact low-income areas and the increase in noise exposure would disproportionately impact low-income minority population.”

Working to help restore Black families isn’t light work. Many of the families who benefit from my leadership and that of many others would have to take on yet another burden that lessens the quality of our lives by the placement of these new F-35s in our area. We are already working to resolve housing inequities, pay gaps, low investments in education and higher arrest rates, among other issues. Increasing inequities is in direct conflict with solutions to address racism in the county. Therefore, I oppose the location of the proposed squadron of F-35A fighter jets at Truax Field.

Sabrina Madison, founder of the Progress Center for Black Women, works to restore Black families from a love ethic.

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