Inspiring Voices

Building a Stronger Community, One Leader at a Time

[Note: The following is an article written by Nicholas Garton and originally published in partnership with Madison365. Please support our partners Madison 365 by visiting their site to follow local coverage from a variety of perspectives.]

The classroom falls silent as a teacher calls for the school guidance counselor. A few muffled laughs come from the back of the room. Some kids mutter under their breath.

The guidance counselor arrives to help Johnny, who happens to be white, through whatever is wrong. Something just must be wrong. There must be some emotional problem or easy-to-explain reason why young white Johnny would have an outburst in front of the whole class. Moments earlier, he’d seemed fine. Now, just minutes later, he was melting down in front of the whole class raising his voice and talking back to his teacher in vicious, angry words. The teacher didn’t know what to do. So they called the guidance counselor. Neither one of them could understand it. Johnny just looked so… well… just didn’t look like one of them who would be the type to do this at all. So they whisked him away to an office to get help.

A black student, whom we’ll call Malik, stands up. He says he needs to go to the restroom but the teacher isn’t buying it. He’s told to sit down. He says a few terse words back to the teacher, none of which are as bad as what Johnny says. But his delivery — the way he says those words seems so, well, threatening. The teacher calls on the school’s police liaison. Malik stands his ground, yells more things at the teacher. Pretty soon, he’s in handcuffs. He’s in 8th Grade.

After class a group of black kids hit the hallway together. They come from diverse backgrounds. They each have different tastes in music, arts, what careers they’d like to have. Despite those differences they always hang together to look out for one another and support each other in hard times.

Teachers and other faculty bristle as they walk by. The kids feel the tension. The group walks to a window to see Malik handcuffed a squad car being told to calm down. Johnny watches too, from the guidance counselor’s office, still sniffling and his voice hoarse from all his yelling.

This wasn’t a specific incident. It didn’t happen at any particular school on any particular day. White Johnny and Black Malik are just fictional characters. It didn’t take place at any specific school at all.

Yet, it did take place. Everywhere. All the time. Everyday. It happened in the junior high, the high school, and even the college near you. All the time.

AJ Carr, who is 14, needs no such examples to understand this issue. He lives it everyday. He feels the tension. He sees the disparity in how things at school are handled, or how many after-school opportunities exist for the black and brown communities versus for their white counterparts.

And AJ has decided to do something about it.

He has launched several programs for kids all over Madison, including the after-school study program Level Up at Badger Rock Middle School and the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Building Bosses.

Building Bosses pairs kids with mentors who can help guide them into career paths that might be appealing to them. It’s also an opportunity for kids to learn about life from someone who has been successful.

“Right now it’s going really well,” Carr says. “I’m looking for more mentors for the kids. It’s mostly business owners teaching them business skills and fundamental life skills. Also things I didn’t know a lot about growing up, like health. I think that’s what people have been really attracted to.”

During the 2016-17 school year, Carr says he had about 10 students participating in Building Bosses from middle schools throughout the city. He says he plans on having closer to 15 for next school year.

“With Building Bosses I’m trying to teach kids that they can succeed no matter what they look like,” Carr says. “That despite the obstacles you need to pull through and you can be what you want to be. To not let anyone tell them they can’t do what they want and achieve their biggest goals and aspirations. People still tell me I can’t do this, or I can’t do that. I don’t let thsat hold me back.”

Carr has attended school board meetings to promote Building Bosses and has met with officials around Madison, including the Police Chief Mike Koval, and has an upcoming meeting with Mayor Paul Soglin, to discuss the issues that are facing not just kids around Badger Rock but most kids of color around the city. Carr says all of those meetings have been good so far.

“They’re really supportive. I mean I always talk about how I met with Chief Koval. He looked like he’d seen a ghost when I was talking about the color of my skin and Tony Robinson (who was shot and killed by a Madison police officer in 2015),” Carr says, laughing. “He was really supportive. I was honest about how race affects everything and they still wanted to support me.”

CSW-horiz-2colorCommunity Shares of Wisconsin has been one of Carr’s most enthusiastic supporters. This year Community Shares has chosen AJ Carr and his Building Bosses program to be featured in the Inspiring Voices program—a program developed with the aim of providing visibility to local efforts led by people of color. Community Shares developed the program in 2016 with an acknowledgement that, as a largely white-dominated organization, few of the groups represented in their membership  led by people of color or emerging from the communities most impacted by systemic racism.

Hedi Rudd, the Chair of Community Shares of Wisconsin Membership committee, says she sees the potential for Carr to introduce programming to other kids they might not otherwise have.

“I’m actually the one who nominated AJ,” Rudd says. “I was aware of AJ before he came here. I saw the work he was doing and really thought it was great work. When Badger Rock Neighborhood Center was going through the planning phases they were one of the families living in that community that needed Badger Rock. Having someone closer to their age who’s running a program like that is very attractive to kids. Rather than having a grown up telling them what to do, they have a young person modeling behavior.”

Rudd says a lot of the participants in the program are kids who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. Having the ability to be mentored by people from various businesses or careers is a big help.

“Most kids who come from these communities have parents who aren’t there to necessarily provide after school programming,” Rudd says. “So they rely on Madison Community School Recreation and AJ’s Level Up (after-school study) program. AJ has the opportunity to provide some experiences that kids otherwise wouldn’t have.”

Badger Rock Middle School
Badger Rock Middle School

Rudd says that there’s lots of cool things going on around Madison but that not everyone has access to it. Many communities charge for community events and a lot of people, particularly around Badger Rock and neighborhoods like it, aren’t able to afford many of the activities going on around town.

Bria Brown, Membership Coordinator at Community Shares, is not originally from the Madison area and noticed a general lack of diversity upon coming to Dane County. The building of bridges through programs like AJ’s is something she sees as vital to changing that dynamic.

“I’m really excited about his programming,” Brown says. “That it’s being led by a youth of color I think is really cool. We were super excited when he nominated Building Bosses for Inspiring Voices. What we really want is groups to be focused on racial justice and we want groups led by people of color.”

Brown says that when she moved to Madison she was struck by how few people of color there were involved in community decision making and just the city infrastructure in general. Brown says it was odd going into different community spaces and not seeing people of color, or at a maximum seeing the same two or three people of color at each place. Being used to having people of color everywhere and involved in everything, she says Madison has systemic diversity issues that need to be addressed.

AJ Carr, an Illinois native, feels that tension as well.

“Numerous studies show that Madison is the worst city in America for black children,” Carr says. “It’s way different here than in Illinois. It’s way more racist here. From third grade on, being up here, I knew there was a big difference and big effect from the color of my skin. In this area it’s just hard. It is a huge fight for black kids to succeed here. I don’t have statistics but I just know it from my experiences or from the experiences of people around me.”

Carr says that even at his school there are racial divides and tensions. He says the biggest issue is the disparity between how behavioral issues for white kids are handled in contrast to their black or brown counterparts. He says he feels like a lot of white privilege is handed out at his school when it comes time to hand out discipline or even in the way white kids behave towards minorities.

Carr has taken it upon himself to make things more comfortable for all students. His REACH program, which will be going on this summer, is aimed at talking about different things going on in the community.

“Part one is going into the streets and talking to people about what’s going on,” Carr says. “Secondly, we sit down and talk in front of other young people about the issues we identified out on the street. Part three is like a scripted sitcom that we film. It’s with real life situations and real life topics.”

Carr says his first shoot will be a sitcom about the removal of confederate flags around the United States. He says the Flag represents hatred and needs to be taken down everywhere.

Later this summer, Carr and his mother Dorecia will take a group of kids who have lost loved ones to gun violence and give them a weekend getaway at Chula Vista Resort in Wisconsin Dells.

Carr says that he wants each of those kids to know they aren’t alone. He also wants to use it as an opportunity to combat the stereotypes of young black males like himself. A stereotype that usually has it’s roots in gun violence.

“I think guns shouldn’t be in the hands of anyone,” Carr says. “It should be way more difficult to get a gun. We need way more background checks and more precautions. But it’s not like young black kids or males are the only people shooting. Young white kids are shooting up schools.”

Carr says the whites perpetrating violence just aren’t labeled the same way and that drives the stereotypes.

“When other races end up doing something violent they are labeled terrorists or thugs,” Carr explains. “White people do it and they’re just misunderstood or something. Everyday I feel the stereotype of being a young black male. Like every day. If a black kid has weed or gets in a fight or something and gets caught, it’s way different at my school than if a white kid does it.”

The passion with which Carr addresses issues like white privilege is one of the reasons he was chosen by Community Shares.

On June 11, AJ Carr will be at Cherokee Country Club hosting a fundraiser to get more mentors for kids. He will be explaining the curriculum for the next school year for Building Bosses and is hoping to add enough mentors to have over 15 kids be able to participate.

Dorecia Carr
Dorecia Carr

Dorecia Carr, AJ’s mom and manager, says there will be a special guest from out of town as well who will be a very prominent person. Her lips were sealed, however, when asked who the guest would be. People will have to wait until June 11 to find out.

Cheri Dubiel, the Executive Director of Community Shares of Wisconsin, says she hopes people will come out and support these types of events.

“Community Shares of Wisconsin and our supporters have long funded organizations working to address the problems caused by systemic inequality,” Dubiel says. “Inspiring Voices connects CSW donors to innovative racial justice programs led by people of color with the aim of directing more resources to solutions emerging from the communities themselves.”

For kids like AJ Carr the solutions are simple. Finding the resources to achieve those solutions is hard. He’ll spend this summer and next school year finding ways to manufacture those resources so that this generation can experience the things most white or affluent communities around Madison take for granted.

“Obviously AJ’s success is going to be our community’s success,” Hedi Rudd says. “There’s enough room for everyone to be successful.”

Bria Brown says she hopes this program will lead to more Black and Brown communities being able to close the gaps in the racial disparities around Madison.

For AJ Carr, though, it’s about more than that. It’s about being able to walk down the hall at his school in Badger Rock without being put into a box by people who just see what he is on the outside. It’s about healing the child victims of gun violence. It’s about filming situations so people can see what it really looks like to be black.

Most of all, it’s about giving others a chance, when all is said and done, to be full and equal members of the community.

The goal of the Inspiring Voices program is to raise money for groups like Building Bosses through a one month visibility campaign. Building Bosses’ campaign starts Sunday, June 11. You can support the campaign with a direct gift to Building Bosses at buildingbosses.com.

 

Orgullo Latinx LGBT+ of Dane County: Building Bridges, Changing Lives

It may be one of the scariest moments a child can face: coming out to a parent as LGBT+. As a teenager, Christian A. Real Merino confronted that moment with his mother.

"Having Orgullo Latinx is like having a safe haven where everyone is welcomed and accepted." -- Diego Campoverde-Cisneros

“Having Orgullo Latinx is like having a safe haven where everyone is welcomed and accepted.” — Diego Campoverde-Cisneros

“At the beginning my mom didn’t accept it and didn’t understand it,” said Christian. “But the thing with my mom is, if she doesn’t understand something, she tries to learn.”

Christian’s mom, Blanca, enlisted the help of community leader Baltazar De Anda-Santana to learn more, but the pair soon found the resources she needed weren’t available

in Dane County.  Information wasn’t in Blanca’s language, Spanish, and Blanca and Christian, who both emigrated from Mexico, did not connect with available programs.

“I didn’t feel like [other organizations] were meant for me,” said Christian. “There were not people who looked like me or who had the same experiences as me.”

That’s why Christian and Blanca teamed up with Baltazar and Diego Campoverde-Cisneros to form what is now Orgullo Latinx LGBT+ of Dane County.  Orgullo Latinx builds an equitable and safe community for Latinx LGBT+ people, though programming, education, advocacy, and support.

Orgullo Latinx LGBT+ of Dane County is part of Community Shares of Wisconsin’s Inspiring Voices series, featuring local grassroots organizations working to advance racial equity. Like many emerging organizations, visibility and funds are especially crucial to Orgullo Latinx to advance their work.  Consider a donation today and share your support with others. And thanks to a generous matching challenge from MG & E, you can double the impact of your gift to Orgullo Latinx LGBT+.

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45 Years of Housing Justice: Combatting Evictions

Few topics illustrate what’s behind the “cycle of poverty” more so than eviction. Ever more commonplace today, evictions often set into motion a precipitous downward spiral for low-income families already living on the edge.

In our final segment on 45 Years of Housing Justice, CSW examines how our member groups help prevent evictions, and aid its victims.

Evictions are also a topic of discussion this fall thanks to Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted, the Go Big Read book at UW-Madison. For Desmond, a UW-Madison graduate, his low-income upbringing led him to question why some people become mired in an unending cycle of poverty—and the book is his answer.

We all know the obvious about evictions: You have to find another place to live—and fast. Less understood are evictions’ disastrous consequences.

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45 Years of Housing Justice: Housing Justice for People of Color and People with Disabilities

There’s a key reason why white people “are desperately uncomfortable talking about race and racism, or looking at the root causes of violence and injustice,” said Bill Tisdale with the Fair Housing Center of Greater Madison. It’s because “we don’t even live near one another.”housing-4-girl

Segregation “isn’t inevitable—it was created, and continues to be created, in the present by systemic forms of discrimination, exclusion, and marginalization,” Tisdale noted in a recent article.

“Housing is an essential human right,” added Erika Sanders, Tisdale’s colleague at the Fair Housing Center. “Where you live affects everything about your life: where you work, where you can buy food, your access to healthcare, where you go to school. And where you go to school in turn affects the kind of job you’re able to get in the future.  Where you find housing impacts everything related to your quality of life.”

Sadly, a 2016 report reveals that the homeownership rate for African Americans today “is lower than the national homeownership rate during the Great Depression years of the 1930s.”

One reason why: another recent article gives hard data about African Americans’ difficulty getting home loans. “As recently as 2006, a city government report found that affluent, non-white Milwaukeeans were 2.7 times likelier to be denied home loans than white people with similar incomes.” The article went on to note that African Americans have been “inevitably constrained by a legacy of racism that prevented their ancestors from buying quality housing and then passing down wealth that might have allowed today’s generation to move into more stable communities.”

“When jobs are in a predominately white part of a segregated metropolitan area that lacks decent public transportation, poverty becomes racialized,” Sanders added. “People of color living in segregated neighborhoods, distant from job opportunities, have far higher rates of unemployment.”

And as a testament to the effects of racial segregation, Sanders pointed to the fact that in Dane and Milwaukee Counties, “low-income white households are scattered throughout the community. That’s not true for low-income people of color.

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45 Years of Housing Justice: Housing Stability and How It Affects People’s Lives

“A safe home is a lot more than just a roof over your head. It gives stability to people’s lives,” said Andy Heidt with Bayview Foundation.

Think about how housing stability allows people to contribute more to our housing-3-cute-boyscommunity. It’s easier to keep your job. Children can concentrate in school, and maybe you as parents can go back to school.

“People in quality affordable housing can save money, move up the economic ladder, and follow their dreams,” Heidt noted.

And without decent, safe, stable housing? You deal with leaky roofs, mold, bugs and rodents, broken fixtures—which you ask your landlord to fix, but many don’t bother to comply. You probably fear being kicked out even for small infractions if you push the landlord too much about needed repairs. And you’re definitely under stress.

“Getting to work every day, and living in substandard housing, is hard enough. If you don’t have a rent subsidy, and you’re paying half of your income just for rent, you’re really living on the edge of homelessness,” said Heidi Wegleitner with Legal Action of Wisconsin.

“Sometimes if just one thing goes wrong—getting sick, or having your car break down—there is no way you can meet all of your financial obligations,” added Diane Eddings with Common Wealth.

Here CSW member groups describe the reality of housing instability and what they are doing to ensure housing stability for the low-income people they work with.

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45 Years of Housing Justice: Keeping Housing Affordable for Low-Income People

Imagine you’re a low-income person applying for Section 8 housing vouchers in Dane County—which will allow you to pay 30% of your income for housing, and the government pays for the rest. How do you get a voucher?

1. First, you wait four or five years until the waitlist opens up. When the day comes, make sure you’re free to get online as soon as they open the system. You have about four hours to keep trying before they shut the system down, because they’ve been flooded with more applications than they can fulfill.

2. Once you have applied, you wait . . . often a few more years, depending on how many people are on the waitlist ahead of you. When you get to the top of the list, you have only 60 days—or 120 if you can get an extension—to find a landlord willing to give you a lease. And that’s not easy.

3. If you can’t find a willing landlord in that period, your article-2-stock-photo-kids-in-windowvoucher gets revoked and you have to start the entire application process all over again.

“Affordable housing is woefully underfunded,” explained Heidi Wegleitner with Legal Action of Wisconsin. “Unlike the food stamp or Medicaid programs, which give benefits to all eligible applicants, funding for federally subsidized housing doesn’t come anywhere close to meeting the need.”

“Madison is fortunate to have Community Shares of Wisconsin [CSW] groups at the forefront, providing high-quality affordable housing for hundreds of families,” said Crystel Anders, CSW Executive Director. “In our 45th anniversary year we’re examining the challenges people face because of a lack of affordable housing—and we’re also highlighting the incredible work of our member groups.”

In addition to providing critical services, CSW’s housing groups are often on the front lines, advocating to improve laws and public policies for low-income people. Anders added that our groups’ advocacy work yields values to the community far beyond housing. A National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy article explained that “Investments in advocacy can have enormous payoffs. A recent series of reports from NCRP shows that [for] every dollar invested by foundations in advocacy, community organizing, and civic engagement . . . the lowest return on investment [was] $89 to $1 and the highest return [was] $157 to $1.”

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45 Years of Housing Justice: Madison’s Role and the Work of CSW Groups

Madison’s Role and the Work of CSW Groups

Too little affordable housing  . . . housing discrimination against the poor and people of color—these are problems deeply rooted in this country, and Madison is no exception.  Those who support justice might wonder how and why these issues remain so entrenched, and what’s being done to eliminate them.

Housing 1“For 45 years Community Shares of Wisconsin [CSW] has proudly supported organizations working to address the root causes of housing inequity in our community,” said CSW Executive Director Crystel Anders. “To mark this anniversary, we’re launching ’45 Years of Housing Justice,’ a five-part series. In it we’ll reflect on how our member groups have improved housing issues for our city and state, and how they’re tackling today’s problems.

“Access to housing is a complex issue, and that’s why it’s critical to fully understand the history behind this essential work,” she added.

The “45 Years of Housing Justice” series begins with this piece on historical context.

The next four pieces focus on how our groups have made strides, and how they continue their work to:

  • Offer affordable housing 
  • Provide stable housing
  • Promote equity for people of color and those with disabilities
  • Combat, and offer alternatives to, evictions

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Hmong Culture as a Prelude to Academic Success

“If a child is unsure of his or her cultural identity, they are  focused solely on other kids’ comments about how odd they look—and the last thing on their mind is their math assignment. It’s a key reason why Hmong students’ academic performance is far below that of their peers,” Peng Her explained.

Group_2338 crop

“Hmong students in the Madison Metropolitan School District [MMSD] are about 93% below grade level in reading proficiency, and 74% below in math,” he continued. “However, research shows that students who understand their native language and culture score higher in academics.”Peng Her head shot

And this is why Peng and his wife, Mai Zong Vue, founded a six-week summer program with very impressive results: the Hmong Language and Culture Enrichment Program (HLCEP) in Madison.

The pre- and post-HLCEP test results are remarkable. “But numbers can’t describe the transformation we see when students go from being painfully shy to outgoing and confident,” said Mai Zong. “We give them a safe place to learn together and find pride together. Once they’re back in school, both parents and teachers tell us how much better these kids are doing academically and socially. Even if they do still hear prejudiced comments, they handle it much better.”

Peng and Mai Zong understand all too well the pain inflicted by prejudice. “We Hmong were not allowed in the United States in 1975 when the last of the U.S. military was pulled out of Southeast Asia. Instead we were sent to refugee camps in Thailand,” said Mai Zong.

The reason? “People thought we lacked the sophistication needed to learn a new way of life,” she explained. “We were perceived as being too primitive to survive in an industrialized country.” It’s one reason why Peng and Mai Zong are  working diligently today to make sure that Hmong children have every chance to succeed.

And although the HLCEP is very effective and accessible,  some Hmong families simply cannot afford the program’s weekly fee of $75 per student. Your gift will help ensure more Hmong youngsters can attend the six-week summer program, which is an independent initiative of the Read on for the personal stories—and the numbers—that showcase this program’s success.
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Mentoring Positives – Breaking The Cycle

Of Will Green’s many talents, one has a major influence on our community: his ability to create strong bonds with young black men and help turn their lives around. It’s why Will founded Mentoring Positives, focusing on youth in the Darbo neighborhood.

Will is working with young men other programs have a hard time impacting. “These are the kids Madison doesn’t really want to talk about,” said Will. “These young men are looking for support in theWill Green wrong place—on the street—and if we don’t connect with them they will be doing things we as a society don’t want them to do.”

And what is Will’s impact? “Honestly it changed me as a person,” said Tyrone, now 20, but who met Will at age 14. “If it wasn’t for Will, and me coming here every day, I’d still be out there doing what I was doing . . . which was everything a 14-year-old wasn’t supposed to be doing.”

“A lot of the youth I work with won’t even make it to the University less than 5 miles away,” Will said. “But I feel like a lot of what we do is immeasurable. You never know how you touch somebody and change the direction of their life.”

You can help Mentoring Positives continue transforming lives by making a gift to their capital campaign. Will is halfway to his $100,000 goal, and your gift, with others’, can allow Will to raise the remaining $50,000. And your gift is doubled, since American Family Dreams Foundation is also providing a $1,000 challenge grant. Read more.

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Positive Women for Change—Helping Women Beat the Odds

Kia Stearn

“I beat the odds in many ways,” said Kia Stearn, “and I’m working to help other women do the same.”

A gift to recognize your mom on Mother’s Day–what better reason to assist an emerging nonprofit, Positive Women for Change (PW4C), which empowers underserved women and helps them get back on the road to financial security. Kia, who founded PW4C, knows how critical 1:1 financial training can be to help people reach modest—but critical—financial goals.

Because she’s been there. Kia, on her own, had to provide for three children, now all college graduates. “It is incredibly difficult to raise a family with little to no income,” she said.

“I feel that my life experience has been my education, and I think that is often true for many underserved women. Though some of what I learned was through trial and error, that experience of raising and caring for a family should never be undervalued. And it is the reason why I began PW4C.

“If I hadn’t benefited from our community’s resources, I could have been homeless,” Kia added. “I want to give back—and if I can help others like me overcome their challenges, it’s worth every minute I put into it.” Read More

CSW Then and Now

women at rally

1971: Community Shares of Wisconsin (CSW) was founded as peace and community activists joined forces as the war in Vietnam was winding down.  They found creative ways to fund the work to end the war, and they wanted to turn their attention to local nonprofits working for social change. Their first fundraising strategy was the Community CHIP® program.  By relying on many small donations, Community CHIP democratized philanthropy.

Thanks to the innovative work of these activists, CSW has the distinction of being the nation’s first social action fund. What does that mean?

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CSW: 45 Years of Partnering with Grassroots Nonprofits

board members 2014 - closeup

Welcome to Community Shares of Wisconsin’s (CSW’s) blog—”Inspiring Voices”—as we celebrate 45 years! During that time we have distributed $16.5 million to support nonprofits that focus on action and advocacy.

As the nation’s first social action fund, CSW stands apart from many other funders:

  • We have a cooperative model—all of our 66 member groups hold a seat on the board and direct our programs and services.
  • All of our groups advocate in some way for social and environmental justice.
  • We build partnerships with our member groups and connect them with donors—because movements for change are most effective when donors are involved with the work.
  • We support organizations, not projects.  We give  general operating funds, because we trust our groups  to know best how to use the money.

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