City Looks to Form New Equity Team in Wake of Floyd Death

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Michelle Phillips

MIDDLETON–After the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, Luke Fuszard wanted to address inequity in the City of Middleton. Fuszard, Middleton City Council District 5 Alder, drafted a resolution regarding his concerns. 

“I wrote it with City Administrator Mike Davis and Alder Robert Burck with input from Mary Beth Paulisse (Director of Curriculum, Assessment an 4k at Middleton Cross Plains Area School District[MCPASD]),” Fuszard said.

The resolution expressed the sorrow of city leaders and employees at Floyd’s death, called for unity, working to identify and eliminate systemic racism, evaluate and identify issues in procedures systems and policies and, reformulating the Middleton Equity Team (MET). The former equity team became defunct in 2019, and Fuszard said he feels the time is right to take up the problem of racism and racial bias in the community.

“There is a short window of time before our attention is diverted away from this situation,” he said.

Fuszard said there was a general consensus among the council, police department and city leaders that although the previous equity team dissolved, the problems were still there. “The last paragraph came from Chief (Troy) Hellenbrand,” he said referring to the reforming of the equity team.

Mayor Gurdip Brar asked Fuszard if he could co-sponsor the bill. “As mayor, I wanted to join the whole city council, to not just to honor the life of George Floyd, but to acknowledge the nationwide problem of police treatment of people of color and minorities. Our city has a very progressive police department. Many citizens had sent me emails inquiring about various issues about our police especially ‘8-can’t wait,’ Brar said. “The Middleton Police Department has had an ‘8-can’t wait’ policy in place for several years.”

One of the things Fuszard would like to see is more diversity on the MET and feels that he needs to sit on the sidelines while the group forms. He said he feels the group also needs leadership, and Dom Ricks, Kromrey Middle School Principal, will being helping take that lead.

Ricks said it is important to make sure people who have been most “disproportionately disserviced” must have their voices heard as well as valued. “I see myself as a platform to uplift other community member’s experiences and voices. I hope to bridge gaps in communication that existed previously and leverage my ties to the community to keep the important conversations going in spaces where change is likely to spark from. In order to do that I need to be building on and forging new relationships with our neighbors,” he said of his roll on the MET.

He added that his wife, Meghan Diaz-Ricks will work with him on the MET. He said he hopes to pull in members of the Latinx community and the couple has already started outreach within the community. They want to bring in people not only of different races and ethnicity, but also different ages, experiences and languages, gender and abilities. 

“Our hope is that as we build this team up and evolve in purpose and impact that we continue to add diverse members from our community. Traditionally Black, Latinx, and other people of color are used to being included in processes and conversations that impact no change for them and have been burned by those experiences. I believe people are bought in where words transform into action and more people will be willing to contribute when they better understand collective goals and objectives,” he stated.

As for goals, Ricks said he wants the MET to reach them through data and learning personal experiences from one another. “Based on my experiences here, I am interested in the intersection of employment and housing for Black and Brown community members. It’s something that deeply impacts the students and families I serve and directly correlates to the diversity we are able to retain and the outcomes for students we are able to see to fruition,” he explained.

Fuszard added, “Part of the mission of the equity team needs to be providing a safe space for people with all perspectives.”

Ricks reminded that racism has been politicized and is a humanitarian issue, not a political issue. In addition he says there is plenty of data to support racism’s “existence and pervasiveness” in society.

“To let bias or political leaning impact how benign a statement like ‘Black Lives Matter’ is would be a moral failing of our community. We are beyond talking about ‘if’ and we need to talk about what it looks like and how Middleton can be better for its population. We all have various starting points in understanding race and diversity, so long as we are not denying other people's lived experiences we can start the conversations wherever we need to move all parts of our community forward,” he said. “The solutions that we could unite around as a community could bolster us all, and we should believe it would. We are as strong as our collective whole and if we are the Good Neighbor City we should strive to be a good place for all of our neighbors.”

Ricks said that a timeline has not been put in place. “Getting the right start is most important. We are looking for passionate individuals, invested in the community who have unique perspectives to share and are resolute in the belief that as a country we should be striving towards real justice, racial justice, and equitable opportunities for all areas of diversity within our space. Once we have the right people at the table we can develop a timeline, plans for getting community input, and areas to explore.

Fuszard said that he wants people to recognize think about systemic racism and he hopes dialogue will be the start of change.

“I feel good about our ability to move forward,” he said. 

Brar, who was on the previous equity team, said it will take a grassroots effort to bring about needed changes to our systems and policies. He said the resolution merely recognizes and identifies the problem.

“Our deeds must follow our words,” he concluded.

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