The issue of race inequity in Madison has recently been put under the microscope, as Mayor Paul Soglin has begun spearheading new efforts to study and find solutions to the problem.
Soglin said the concern in Madison is that more money is put toward expenditures that favor the more affluent neighborhoods, further disadvantaging the needs and of the lower classes.
He said this affects neighborhoods on the south side, where there are a significant number of households below the poverty line, as well as a chain of neighborhoods on the southwest side and Brentwood on the northeast side.
Soglin said one example of inequitable distribution of resources is wiring the city for high-speed internet. He said generally this happens in the most affluent neighborhoods because cable companies know those are the most profitable.
“There’s a limited amount of money that we can spend on capital improvements so we have to prioritize,” he said. “So let’s say we have a few million dollars available, should that money go to underground electric power lines in a middle-class neighborhood or should that money go for a community center in an area where most of the residents are below the poverty line?”
A group that has been involved in addressing the gap is the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, which hosts the Race to Equity Project.
Ken Taylor, executive director of WCCF, said the organization strives to collaborate with others to reach mutual goals of racial equity and the Race to Equity project’s focus is on collecting data.
Taylor said the group produced the Race to Equity baseline report in October and subsequently there has been a lot of interest and discussion. He said the issue of racial inequity has been deeply rooted in American history and that it will take work to move out of it, but this initiative is the next step.
“We think that we can play a role in updating the baseline data, we think that we can play a role in continuing to broaden discussion and in communication, and we think that we can play a role in coordination and collaboration,” Taylor said.
Soglin said this kind of data collection is very important at this point, as the focus is to review the decision-making and be very thorough in their review of “looking at expenditures through an equity lens.” He said they currently have not yet gone through budgets and divided up expenditures.
Another organization playing a role in the initiative is 100state. Co-Founder Adam Braus said 100state has been collaborating with various other groups, and just last week visited a public school to brainstorm with students and teachers on why their Advanced Placement classes were so under attended by minorities.
“100state is different than other organizations, we help solve problems,” Braus said. “One of the biggest problems that Madison has is racial gaps. It’s way bigger than a lot of other cities. It’s been shown statistically that it is worse to be a black person in Madison than it is to be so in Detroit.”