Alder Brian Benford
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
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Alder Benford’s Updates
How do we become the city that we want? Truth!
Dear Friends and Neighbors!
I hope that each and every one of you are well and finding joy. I wanted to pause from this busy day to write from my heart again. I am asking for your indulgence to allow me to share what guides my service as your alderperson. As I sit here with my puppy (Duke Ellington), I am feeling extremely blessed that I have a home and will not be sleeping in one of our parks, or under a bridge along Highway 30 tonight.
I know that most of you have been following the plight of our houseless neighbors in the news. Perhaps some of you have donated your time or money to a community-based organization that is supporting our traditionally marginalized neighbors, and you know first-hand, the suffering that so many face in our city? Maybe, sadly, you have experienced housing insecurities in your life, and know personally the pain and trauma that being without a home can offer?
In my service to the city and with the UW-Madison, Odyssey Project, each day, I witness those that I aid, struggle to find secure housing, culturally competent physical and mental healthcare; sustainable living wage jobs; safety from domestic and interpersonal violence; access to educational opportunities; and a myriad of other barriers and challenges that are unimaginable to most.
In order to begin to heal from the insidious impacts of poverty and trauma, individuals need a safe place to lay their heads at night. You don't have to be a psychotherapist or a physician to know that sleep and safety are crucial for us to remain healthy. At times, I struggle to understand how our beloved city has become a "tale of two cities". As I type, I have the privilege of looking out my window on Center Avenue, and marveling how lucky I am to live in a beautiful, quiet neighborhood, filled to the brim with fantastic neighbors and friends. For folks like me, this city that wins countless national accolades can be a beautiful place to live. For far too many others, this city has some of the worse racial disparities in the United States for our vulnerable BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and other people of color) neighbors. Across every facet of their lives, whether in housing, employment, income, education, police interactions, within our criminal justice system, thousands of people living in Madison face daily unneeded misery and pain.
That is why I am working with the City of Madison's Equal Opportunities Commission, to craft a Truth and Reconciliation process so that we all can understand how and why we have become a horrendous place for traditionally marginalized neighbors and to begin a healing process. All with the sincere hopes of helping Madison to be the city that I believe we all want.
I have lived in Madison since 1979. Over the years, I have seen this city, our district and our neighborhoods change tremendously. In my research to better understand how our treasured city has fostered, tolerated or ignored the racial and social injustices that has brought us to where we are now, I discovered that since its incorporation in 1856, this city has a troubling history for its BIPOC citizens. I want to share an excerpt from a draft resolution that the EOC is working on to illustrate some of our findings.
WHEREAS, in the mid-20th century, City did not prevent the destruction of the ethnically diverse neighborhoods, such as the Greenbush neighborhood in south Madison, displacing residents and disrupting their way of life; and,
WHEREAS, Black residents faced multiple and persistent instances of housing discrimination in Madison between the 1930s and the 1950s, directly impacting their ability to prosper economically, causing a lasting impact that continues to be felt today; and,
WHEREAS, even now, Madison is host to stark racial and ethnic disparities; and
WHEREAS, in 2013, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families Race to Equity Project published Race to Equity: A Baseline Report on the State of Racial Disparities in Dane County, which documented extreme disparities in many aspects of life; and,
WHEREAS, as of 2019, although Black residents make up 5.5% of the Dane County population, 45.9% of the individuals incarcerated in the Dane County Jail are Black; and
WHEREAS, according to a 2021 report by the JFA Institute, "about 10% of all blacks are arrested at least once a year in Dane County as opposed to 1% for all other racial and ethnic groups"; and,
WHEREAS, as of 2019, the ratio of the annual household income of the top 20% to the bottom 20% of households in Madison is 4.8 to 1; and,
WHEREAS, there are dramatic racial disparities in rates of income poverty in Madison, with 3.6% of the white population experiencing income poverty, in contrast to 22.8% of the Black population and 13.1% of the Latinx population; and,
WHEREAS, Madison has disparities in the rate of health insurance coverage by race and ethnicity, with 2.6 percent of white residents being uninsured, as compared to 19.7 percent of Indigenous, 9.3 percent of Black, 6 percent of Asian, and 13.3 percent of Latinx Madisonians; and..............sadly, there's so much more damning examples of how this city has failed our BIPOC citizens.
Over the last couple of years I have witnessed so many of my neighbors and friends reflect on social justice and equity issues, especially after the murder of Mr. Floyd. I have said it before, I believe that diving deep to reflect on issues of race, or our own privileges can be one of the most frightening things that we can do as humans. I know that many of my friends are exploring whether or not they are complicit to the systemic racism that exist not only in our city, but in the world we live in. Knowing that there so many thoughtful, caring people across this city, especially you D6ers, I believe that if we can take the time to intentionally pause, and acknowledge past wrongs, only then can we begin to reach our full potential as a city.
With a Truth and Reconciliation process, it is my hopes that the Common Council will unanimously approve the Equal Opportunities Commission to create a Working Group of key stakeholders, representing and serving the BIPOC community to host events, conduct listening sessions, offer educational opportunities and to present a report at the end of 2022 that will hopefully include policy recommendations to help Madison in eliminating the 'tale of two cities". As this initiative moves forward, please consider lending your support. Geez folks, not to sound over the top, but I know that if people from different backgrounds come together in unity, respect, humility and compassion, we can forge a new safe, socially just and equitable Madison
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