How the deindustrialization of Milwaukee still affects communities of color

How the deindustrialization of Milwaukee still affects communities of color

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This is part one of two stories about Milwaukee’s history with deindustrialization and how it impacts marginalized communities.

Dana Kelley is a civic engagement organizer with North Side Rising, a nonprofit organization that seeks to place marginalized people in green technology jobs.

Kelley says the organization’s mission is an answer to the devastation that the deindustrialization of Milwaukee has placed on marginalized communities. In the ’50s and ’60s many Black and Brown workers relied on manufacturing jobs to provide for themselves and their families.

Not every person of color was able to attend college to obtain a degree so manufacturing jobs provided stability.

Dana Kelley, North Side Rising Dana Kelley with Vecinos Unidos to stop evictions demonstration | Photo courtesy Dana Kelley

“They’re willing to get up and do what it takes to put food on the table and to provide for their home and their family,” Kelley says. “They got a good manufacturing job that had a great pension, great health care benefits, and that even helped their children to go to college. They made that sacrifice.”

As manufacturing jobs started moving into the suburbs and eventually out of the state, Black and Brown people couldn’t always move to meet those jobs. Redlining policies kept Blacks from getting home loans that would enable them to move to the burbs. As Kelley says, double standards and political injustice kept communities of color impoverished.

In some ways, it’s still the same today.

“We’re not free to travel throughout the city, throughout the state, you know, anytime we are outside of our area, we’re harassed,” Kelley says.

The displacement of jobs and lack of access to them had a domino effect on communities of color.

“For them to work as diligent and faithfully as they did, when it was time for them to reap the benefits of their labor, all of these things were taken away,” Kelley says. “It left empty buildings, empty homes, empty bank accounts and empty hope.”

That effect still plays out today.

In part two we’ll look at how North Side Rising seeks to provide manufacturing and trade skill jobs for marginalized communities. It might not solve everything, Kelley says, but it’s a start.

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