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“We have to see each other’s color.” On committee to address racism, Louise Padron focuses on root causes

This piece was produced for the NEW News Lab, a collaboration between five newsrooms covering important issues in Northeast Wisconsin.

Louise Padron wants to address root causes, rather than offering band-aid solutions.

She’s seeking to educate policy makers about systemic racism and diversity issues as a member of Brown County’s ad-hoc committee dedicated to tackling racism as a public health crisis. The committee, which meets monthly, was charged to work for two years and create recommendations to address systemic racism in Brown County. 

“My greatest hope is that we can really promote not just equality, but equity,” she said in an interview. “It’s not good enough to just not see color. We have to see each other’s color. We have to respect and honor that we’re all coming from different cultural backgrounds.” 

Padron is a citizen of the Oneida Nation. She embedded herself in tribal values and culture when she moved from Georgia to Wisconsin 20 years ago. She grew up the only Native person in her community and understands the sense of alienation that can arise living in a dominant white culture, or “navigating two worlds,” as she says. 

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and human development, Padron began working with youth from abusive homes as an advocate with Oneida social services.

“What really drew me to enter this work was really just wanting to be the person that I needed when I was younger, for other people,” she said. She currently works at a nonprofit and holds a masters in clinical mental health counseling.      

Padron joined the ad-hoc committee in order to be a voice for her community and to  advance discussions on race and racism.

“There’s a lot of denial around racism and privilege and the need for diversity in this community,” she said. At the committee’s last meeting, a county board member read a letter from one of her constituents stating the committee was increasing racism rather than reducing it.     

A critical issue Padron wants to address while on the committee is homelessness. She says that poverty needs to be destigmatized. Landlords often won’t accept renters with a criminal history or renters who receive housing assistance vouchers. Padron wants to institute training for the landlord’s association on diversity and inclusion, so that landlords will be more likely to accept a broader swath of renters and play a role in alleviating the housing shortage. Rather than resort to eviction, landlords could direct struggling renters to resources, she says.    

Beyond housing, Padron wants people to understand that issues such as addiction, poverty, and domestic violence that members of the Nation contend with are a consequence of historical trauma. 

“It’s not a matter of people kind of creating those situations for themselves. It really is a result of the intergenerational trauma that has been passed down,” she says. Marginalized people often feel powerless in a dominant culture that prizes hierarchies, she explained. 

Through her work on the committee, Padron wants to continue educating individuals on how they can promote equity on a systemic level and in their institutions. The next committee meeting, which is open to the public, will be on Monday the 28th at 5:00 PM at the Brown County Library.