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Milwaukee business execs, foundation chief say protests are call to action for area's white leadersh

Metro Milwaukee’s most influential business leaders and the CEO or the area’s most prominent community foundation say the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — and the protests that followed — will serve as a catalyst for them to intensify their efforts to address issues of racial discrimination and economic inequities in the Milwaukee area. The Greater Milwaukee Committee, which is chaired by David Lubar of Lubar & Co. in Milwaukee, called Floyd’s death “tragic and unjust.” “Racism and systemic inequities in access to health care, education and justice are unacceptable,” the Greater Milwaukee Committee said. “Working together we must find a way to create change, while standing against violence and property destruction.” Read the GMC's letter below. Greater Milwaukee Foundation president and CEO Ellen Gilligan, who also is a member of the Greater Milwaukee Committee board, issued her own strongly worded letter as a call to action for high-profile leaders like those on the GMC board and beyond. The roots of the protests in recent days “are embedded in how we have shaped society in a manner that benefits people differently, and for the most part, those differences are favorable if you’re white and detrimental if you’re not,” Gilligan said. “That cardinal disparity of embedded racism, and the systems that support it, are what leaders across our community – especially white leaders – must work together to dismantle,” she said. Gilligan, in an interview Monday, said the Milwaukee community’s white leaders need to not only issue statements like hers but also “stand as allies and partners with our colleagues of color.”

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation, which is a conduit for grants and gifts from the funds of affluent individuals, families and groups, will increase the pace and urgency of its commitment to racial equity and inclusion, Gilligan said. That includes proceeding with plans for relocating the organization’s offices to Milwaukee’s central city in a $100 million redevelopment of a former anchor department store on North Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive near West North Avenue. The Greater Milwaukee Foundation is a partner in the project with the Medical College of Wisconsin. The developer is Kevin Newell’s Royal Capital Group of Milwaukee. Construction is expected to start late this summer, said Greg Wesley, senior vice president at the Medical College. The issues raised by protestors underscore the reasons the Medical College and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation are partnering in the project with the goal of community outreach, Wesley said. “In some instances, people might think the institutions — because of the violence that is happening — might decide to put our investment in the area on hold, and we have not,” Wesley said. Gilligan agreed and said the project is tangible evidence her organization is making a financial commitment to the central city that she and Wesley hope other organizations will follow. On Monday afternoon, Gilligan took a hands-on approach joining a community cleanup of the Pete’s Fruit Market property one block from her organization’s future office that was one of the businesses affected by vandalism and looting. The Medical College’s leaders issued a letter of their own on Monday saying the private medical school and the Milwaukee community need to make a focal point of addressing racism and health disparities and inequities.

“We have invested in partnerships and programs to be part of the solution,” president and CEO Dr. John Raymond Sr. and medical school dean Dr. Joseph Kerschner said. “We acknowledge that more is required and pledge with more vigor to be part of the change needed to address the public health crisis at hand stemming from structural racism and unchecked hatred in our country.” The Greater Milwaukee Committee said it has invested in neighborhoods including working with MKE United to promote equitable neighborhood strategies; provided resources to small-business owners through Scale Up Milwaukee; supported talent development and retention through The Commons; and backed the MKE Responds initiative to align resources and respond to community needs of Covid-19. "The Greater Milwaukee Committee is committed to listening to the voices of our community, hearing the concerns raised in protest, and leveraging our work to be a part of systemic transformation," the letter said.

The Greater Milwaukee Committee’s board members signing the organization's letter included Margaret Kelsey, executive vice president and general counsel at WEC Energy Group; Greg Marcus, president and CEO of The Marcus Corp.; George Oliver, chairman and CEO of Johnson Controls; Jonas Prising, chairman and CEO of ManpowerGroup; JoAnne Anton of Herb Kohl Philanthropies; Elizabeth Brenner, retired president and publisher of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Giacomo Fallucca, CEO of Palermo Villa Inc.; Ted Kellner of T&M Partners LLC; Marquette University president Mike Lovell; and Jim Popp, president and CEO of Johnson Financial Group.


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