About 100 people, including State Senator Lena Taylor, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and many business and community leaders, gathered at ManPower headquarters for the announcement of the African American Leadership Alliance of Milwaukee (AALAM, pronounced ay-lum), a new organization dedicated to developing African American leaders, attracting and retaining talented African Americans to Milwakuee, and lowering racial disparities.
The organization grows out of the African American Leadership Program, which has trained about 200 people in leadership skills over the past 12 years.
“As we looked at our many successes and the impact of the program, we started to wonder, how can we leverage our 12 years knowledge and experience to reach and transform more African American leaders because we knew it was needed, but how can we work then also to influence system change within the larger landscape of the city, and how can we drive the conversation about the assets of significant African American leadership across all sectors in Milwaukee,” said AALAM founder Dr. Jeanette Mitchell.
In addition to continuing to provide AALP training, Mithcell said AALAM will work as a connector and collaborator, bringing together existing programs and resources.
Board member Antonio Riley echoed that.
“There are many reasons we need to work together to address the pervasive racial disparities that exist in this region,” said Riley, who served as the Midwest Region Administrator for the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama. “African-Americans are underrepresented in almost all sectors of Milwaukee, except in the criminal justice system. Just last week, yet another study ranked Milwaukee as worst for African Americans, for comparable cities. And despite these real challenges, there are also extraordinary opportunities for African American leaders. We must continue to highlight these opportunities and the leaders who are central to addressing these disparities. Now is the time for us to showcase the good regional work that has already taken place here in the metropolitan Milwaukee area.”
Riley described what he called AALAM’s “bold vision.”
He said the organization had three primary goals: to make Milwaukee a top-ranking city for African Americans by 2025; ensure African American leaders want to come to and stay in Milwaukee; and to grow and enhance a “thriving and diverse pool of African American leaders who can contribute positively to that work.”
Riley noted that 11 percent of Milwaukee’s workforce is African American, but only 4.9 percent are in management.
Board member Genyne Edwards, a partner at P3 Development Group, said it’s AALAM’s goal to “ensure that representation exists and some of the key strategic decision makers. It’s not just employment.”
The AALP program “definitely allowed me an opportunity to really hone in on some skills of mine that I hadn’t been able to contribute and show,” said Tiffany Henry, president of the Urban League Young Professionals. She says virtually everything that’s happened in her career has happened since she completed the program in 2017 — including taking a leadership role in the Urban League and even a promotion at work.
“I was able to bring those skills and what I was being taught in AALP to my job, but also to the greater Milwaukee community,” she said.
She added that she hopes AALAM will be able to do even more with the talent developed through AALP.
“(AALAM) lets the community know that there is African American talent here,” she said. “Consider us, but also make sure that we’re as a table at all conversations. At work, when we’re at the table, we show up and we show out. We’re able to not only just bring talent, we’re also retaining talent. There’s so many individuals who are transplants like myself and we want to be able to have a reason to stay here in Milwaukee and to be able to support not just the business community, (but) education, academic, nonprofit, and government sectors. We’re all in those spaces. And it gives us opportunities to be able to showcase that and bring it to another level. I’m proud of what’s being done today.”
State Senator Lena Taylor said AALAM will fit in well with efforts underway at the state level — Governor Tony Evers signed an executive order Tuesday to, among other initiatives, create a Council on Equity and Inclusion and direct state agencies to create inclusive hiring plans and provide annual reports on diversity and equity efforts. Taylor is the author of an accompanying bill in the State Senate that would provide $982,000 over the next two years to hire staff for the Council and dedicated staff in every agency to work on diversity and equity. State Rep. Shelia Stubbs authored the Assembly version of the bill.
“One of the pieces in the legislation is talking about the data and talking about how we in turn look at our outcomes and address the issues of outcomes in the agencies with policy that connects to those agencies,” Taylor said. “Someone needs to make it make sense. Someone needs not to be partisan, right in the midst of that, and someone needs to be able to beat that drum consistently going forward. So I can’t tell you fully how I see the interconnection, but I see that there’s a great need for (AALAM) to be a part of that process.”
Mitchell said AALAM intends to hire an executive director and a small staff of about three people.
“Of course we’re going to have to see how that all works out, but that’s what we were looking at,” she said. “Have a small staff and then collaborate with people who are doing the work. Work is already being done. There’s no sense in building a big staff. It’s connecting people, seeing how we can engage.”
The group is launching with the support of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and funding from Bader Philanthropies, Milwaukee Brewers Community Foundation, Greater Milwaukee Foundation, the Greater Milwaukee Committee, Herb Kohl Philanthropies, Johnson Controls, Medical College of Wisconsin, Nonprofit Management Fund, Northwestern Mutual Foundation, Ralph Evinrude Foundation, Baird, Rockwell Automation, We Energies and Zilber Family Foundation.