Newspaper series catalyzes community dialogue

Consistent with our mission to foster a deep understanding of issues faced by our community, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation this spring supported a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel special report examining the root causes and consequences of challenges that have persisted for decades in this region. The project’s unique approach, in which Journal Sentinel reporter James Causey explored what became of his third-grade classmates from nearly 40 years ago, was made possible through the Foundation’s Fellowship in Public Service Journalism.

What happened to us? – A Journal Sentinel special report

The multiple-part newspaper series culminated in a community conversation on May 4, drawing more than 100 participants who joined leadership and staff from the Foundation and Journal Sentinel to discuss the stories, share their own experiences and identify opportunities for a brighter future. The live event included an interview with Causey, a panel discussion with several of his classmates from Samuel Clemens School and an exchange of ideas with all in attendance facilitated by Foundation board chair Cory L. Nettles.

As Nettles and Foundation president and CEO Ellen Gilligan observed in a subsequent, co-authored editorial, the series and event demonstrated that people in our community want to have an honest dialogue and to begin taking meaningful action on issues of race, class and opportunity. 

In fact, some of the elements needed to achieve our vision of an inclusive, globally competitive region are already working here. Microlending to low-income families is encouraging homeownership. Organizations are helping working families develop financial literacy and preparing adults and youth to enter the workforce. At the Foundation, we’ve invested more than $27 million in community development since 2014, and we’ll soon introduce a pilot impact investing program focused on jobs and job creation, providing access to capital outside conventional financing models.

“In our community today, we see examples of people investing in their neighborhood, sharing in the wealth that’s being generated, and then being able to use those resources for such things as buying a home,” said Kathryn Dunn, vice president for community investment. “Some of the steps are small, but they are steps in the right direction.”