Marcelia Nicholson: a day in photos with the president of the county board of supervisors

I’m proud to be born and raised here in Milwaukee. I grew up in the 53206 zip code, which most know as one of the poorest and most incarcerated in the country. This experience has shaped me and is why I am so strong an advocate for the communities that experience the most disparity among us, often because they were born with the wrong zip code through no fault of their own.

Because of the neighborhood I was born in, I had less access to resources and life experiences that would have made it easier for me to thrive. I heard gunshots at night and saw things no child should see. Unfortunately, for me, getting where I am – coming from where I come from – is the exception, not the rule.

My parents worked hard. My mom, a Puerto Rican Morena, is currently a security assistant for Milwaukee Public Schools after working for various organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee and Milwaukee Recreation. My father, a black man from Alabama, retired after nearly 30 years of educating young people in various public schools in Milwaukee. Public service is in my blood. My parents’ marriage, love of community, and perseverance through adversity have always inspired me, but it has often bothered me that even though they worked hard, they couldn’t quite get ahead.

I believe my education is a big part of my success as a public servant today. My unique perspective and experiences allow me to meet people where they are and understand the opportunities people need to thrive. My position as county supervisor was no longer considered a full-time position after the issue went to a referendum vote in 2014. We receive part-time salaries and no benefits, but I ran anyway in elections because we have so much at stake. I think historically we’ve had a lot of well-meaning leaders here in Milwaukee, but if they don’t know firsthand what it really means to live and breathe poverty, or what what it means to live and breathe discrimination, it is much more difficult for them to make these important decisions with the full understanding they deserve.

My life experience has also led me to what has been the central goal of all my work with the County Board: to achieve racial equity. In 2019, I was proud to take the lead in making Milwaukee County the first local government in the nation to declare racism a public health crisis. I did this because your zip code shouldn’t determine your results. Since then, hundreds of cities and counties have joined us in this declaration. The following year, we established a vision to become the healthiest county in Wisconsin by achieving racial equity, and we’ve passed countless policies that have been advancing racial equity ever since.

My work around equity has recently taken me across the state through regional meetings on diversity, equity and inclusion in places like Appleton, Hayward, Pewaukee and Weston. I’ve met dozens of officials from nearly all of Wisconsin’s 72 counties on these trips, and one thing I’ve found is that we have so much more in common than we realize. There are challenges like poverty and limited resources or access to services across the state, and no matter where you are from, you want a good quality of life. We are in a time of great political division. People often feel that those outside their community are the enemy, but these meetings have confirmed to me that we can accomplish so much if we build bridges instead of barriers.

Growing up, I never thought about going into politics. As an MPS student at Benjamin Franklin Elementary, Samuel Morse Middle, and Milwaukee School of Languages, I found solace and comfort through the love and care of my teachers. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wanted to provide that same support for the next generation.

I was finally able to achieve this goal and become an elementary school teacher with MPS. It was there that I began to become more involved in activism as a member of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association and worked to organize our members for better working and classroom conditions.

Some of my favorite memories of working with the teachers union include our office basement strategy meetings, the uplifting community events we held to recognize our public school families, and the solidarity I felt participating in the many marches, demonstrations and rallies against anti-education and anti-worker policies that allowed us to walk side by side with other workers and union members across the state.

Although I have found great joy in teaching and still consider myself an educator at heart, my experience as a teacher in a public school is really what led me to run for a position. elective. I saw that the system we have is flawed. I was teaching in an overcrowded classroom with 36 students and minimal support. I used my own paychecks to organize school trips and buy supplies for my students.

On top of all of this, I began to notice that many of my students were experiencing trauma such as housing instability, food insecurity, and violence in their homes and neighborhoods. I believed I could make an even bigger difference by taking on a position where I could play a direct role in challenging the status quo and the policy choices that have led to the systemic inequalities our community faces. I was eventually recruited to run for a seat on the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.

I ran for the County Board because I believe in the ability of local government to improve our communities. To do this, you need public engagement and trust. When I was first elected to county council, there was a learning curve, but I adapted quickly.

I remember the day I took the oath. The courthouse felt big and foreign, and the council chambers rang and smelled of old books. There were 17 other people recently elected, and they all looked and believed something different from every corner of the county. We took the oath and elected our leaders. Until this day, I was considered a leader of the militant movement, but I quickly realized that my skills as a government official had to develop if I wanted to pass policies and have a long-term impact on people’s life.

Milwaukee County has the opportunity to be a true catalyst for change in people’s lives. We are the hub for essential human services such as housing, behavioral health, aging and disability services. We oversee and manage more than 15,000 acres of parklands that provide space for people to enjoy the many health benefits of the outdoors. We operate a public transit system that gets thousands of people to work, appointments, errands and social events every year.

It is the honor of a lifetime to be Chair of the County Council and to lead the body responsible for policy and budget decisions for these vital services. It is becoming more and more difficult to manage the county’s finances year after year due to the rising costs of providing these services and limited revenues. Without a long-term solution to our fiscal challenges, by 2027 we will have no local money to fund our parks, bus routes, arts, elder services or youth services. These services will have to rely on external sources of funding from the state, federal government or private grants. It will be impossible to achieve our health equity goals if we cannot secure Milwaukee County’s fiscal future.

That’s why I played a leading role in advocating for an additional 1% sales tax for Milwaukee County. A local option sales tax would generate approximately $180 million annually to invest in the services our community needs, while reducing property taxes for county residents. It’s our only real solution that generates enough revenue at the scale needed to meet our challenges. As Milwaukee is booming with new developments such as the Deer District and potential new entertainment venues, an additional 1% sales tax would allow us to better take advantage of these catalytic developments that benefit residents across the country. State.

In my work as President, I continually work in partnership with great people in our community who are working to make Milwaukee a better place. It is heartening to see our hardworking county employees providing vital services to our neighbors. I enjoyed working with the many neighborhood associations that organize to improve their communities one block at a time. I continue to be inspired by groups like Roll Train, who have done so much to make roller skating accessible to everyone in the community. I love organizations like the Urban Ecology Center, which provides a unique green view of our county parks and local wildlife. I appreciate our small business community which helps support our local economy and makes Milwaukee a better place to live. These individuals and groups move Milwaukee forward daily and give me so much hope for our future.

When I started in this role, I didn’t quite understand the impact this work could have on me personally. Every day feels like a new mountain to climb, and as a chosen servant you often encounter people on the worst day of their lives. Being a 34-year-old black woman with unique ideas in a male-dominated field often brings its own set of challenges, but the idea of ​​advancing our shared vision of a better community motivates me because there is another side of the coin. The people of Milwaukee County inspire me immensely.

My hope for a better future grows with every conversation, every passing community policy, and every philanthropic event I attend. Milwaukee has a list of challenges we must overcome, but our people are resilient and our communities are strong. Together, we can become the healthiest, most vibrant community in Wisconsin, and I look forward to walking alongside you on our journey to get there.

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