MICAH: 30 Years of Doing What is Just

Since 1988, when seven Milwaukee religious leaders and their congregations united to form an interracial, interfaith social justice organization, MICAH has been working aggressively to address justice issues affecting many residents of Milwaukee County. Through the strategy of congregation-based organizing, MICAH has won many improvements for the residents of Milwaukee and continues to empower people to create a community that reflects values of faith, justice, and equality. Now, with a membership of 40 institutions, which include Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations our work continues.

Through MICAH’s efforts, racial and economic disparities in Milwaukee have been confronted. While much remains to be done, we are thankful for the progress we have made. A summary of some important milestones and successes follows.

Jobs and Economic Development:

  • Succeeded in drawing together 17 lending institutions in 1990 to set aside over $500 million dollars in loans to first-time home owners enabling them to make purchases in Milwaukee’s previously redlined central city. As a result, bank branches are now located in these areas and home ownership continues to increase.
  • Won passage of a the MORE Ordinance (Milwaukee Opportunities for Restoring Employment), in partnership with the Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods Coalition, requiring prevailing wage for publicly contracted construction projects in which the city provides more than $2 million, and giving preference to local business enterprises.
  • Won passage of a city ordinance requiring at least 14 percent (later increased to 25 percent) of jobs in Department of Public Works contracts to be set aside for unemployed residents from the central city of Milwaukee.
  • Led a coalition with labor and community groups, which resulted in passage of the PERC (Park East Redevelopment Compact) by the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, ensuring community benefits (such as prevailing wages, affordable housing initiatives, and use of disadvantaged business enterprises) be mandated in the estimated $300 million redevelopment of the Park East Corridor.
  • Won agreement from Milwaukee County to “eliminate the box” on county employment applications, asking if an applicant has a felony conviction, a question that blocks ex-offenders from getting interviews and jobs.
  • Worked to establish the Transitional Jobs Coalition, which secured state Temporary Funding for Needy Families support for a demonstration project. This program provides employer subsidies in hiring unemployed workers so they can gain experience and skills to transition into unsubsidized jobs – resulting in 1,780 successful transitions to date. The coalition continues to work.
  • Collaborated with the African American Chamber of Commerce to establish the Certified Professional Grade Contractor Program to help minority and disadvantaged contractors get a foot in the door and more contract opportunities.
  • Succeeded in securing an in-depth audit by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, of the policies and practices of the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee as they relate to the hiring of unemployed and underemployed from the community in the $200 million Westlawn Housing Development project.
  • 2016: Worked with Milwaukee officials to get the federal Department of Transportation approval to require 40% local workers to be used in the implementation of the Milwaukee Streetcar project.

Transit

  • Organized with the state coalition of WISDOM to restore to the state budget the 10 percent cut in 2011-2013 public transit spending, ensuring low income earners, students, and inner city residents can get to jobs, while maintaining mobility for the elderly and disabled.
  • Won $1.3 from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for new bus routes to connect inner city residents to jobs in the suburbs in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Wisconsin on behalf of MICAH and the Black Healthcare Coalition of Wisconsin.
  • Helped establish three new bus routes in 2014 and 2015 originating in inner city Milwaukee, giving access to jobs in Menomonee Falls, New Berlin and Germantown industrial parks, and other businesses in between.
  • 2015-16: Organized transit riders to participate in the Milwaukee County listening sessions as they consider a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) between Milwaukee and Wauwatosa.

Housing

  • Won passage of a city ordinance mandating that at least 50 abandoned houses be rehabbed annually to provide low-income housing.
  • Won passage of a city ordinance stiffening penalties for negligent landlords, providing for ongoing monitoring of problem landlords, while increasing tenant rights.
  • Established the Ezekiel Community Development program to build affordable single family homes in the central city, resulting in the completion of 17 homes at N.17th and Walnut from 2002-13.
  • Helped Ezekiel CDC begin a new direction in 2013: rehabbing foreclosed homes, utilizing minority contractors, training hard-to-employ workers in the building trades, and selling refurbished homes to first time home buyers.

Alcohol and Other Substance Abuse

  • Persuaded Milwaukee County to restore $3.3 million in proposed cuts for drug treatment funding.
  • Established a drug hot-line in cooperation with the Milwaukee Police Department, resulting in the shutdown of more than 350 drug houses in the city.
  • Secured $7.5 million in state funding for drug treatment of uninsured addicts in Milwaukee County.

Criminal Justice and Prison Reform

  • Fought to maintain the Day Report Center in Milwaukee County, enabling low-risk offenders to keep their jobs and their family roles, while maintaining their mental health and/or drug treatment regimen on a regular basis at the Day Report Center and thus diverted from incarceration.
  • Initiated the TIP (Treatment Instead of Prison) Campaign, a legislative victory of WISDOM which offers nonviolent offenders in Wisconsin drug treatment instead of incarceration.
  • Collaborated with two other non-profits in Milwaukee and with the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors in returning the administration of the House of Corrections from the sheriff to an appointed superintendent, for the purpose of reinstating rehabilitative programming.
  • Launched with WISDOM the 11×15 campaign to reduce incarceration in Wisconsin state prisons by 11,000 by 2015, thus combatting the negative effects on Milwaukee neighborhoods from the disproportionate imprisonment of minorities and the economically disadvantaged.
  • Worked with other WISDOM affiliates in 2013, to increase Treatment Alternatives and Diversion (TAD) funding from $1 million to $4 million.
  • Increased visibility in 2014 through five statewide actions in Madison and Milwaukee and through discussions with legislators and other officials for issues such as: the overuse of Solitary Confinement; the plight of “Old Law/Parole Eligible” prisoners who have long been parole-eligible, but are lost in system bureaucracy; the need for “Compassionate Release” for many elderly and/or very ill prisoners.
  • 2013: Eight MICAH congregations launched the 53206 Initiative to provide an organized effort to combat policies and procedures that in mass incarceration racial disparities and to reduce imprisonment entry rates in the community with the worst incarceration rate for African American males.
    • 2015: Developed the 53206 Holy Ground Youth and Young Adult Organizing Project and secured a major, multi-year grant that enabled the hiring of a full-time youth and young adult organizer to identify neighborhood leaders and form and train teams in the neighborhood.
    • 2015: Launched the Safe Surrender project after winning another major, multi-year grant allowing for a full-time organizer.
    • 2016: The Safe Surrender project organizing influenced the Municipal Court to offer “Warrant Release Wednesday” program with overwhelming community participation.
  • 2014: With other WISDOM affiliates launched the ROC Wisconsin (Restoring our Communities) campaign to build on the work of the 11×15 campaign to continue and expand the work of criminal justice reform in Wisconsin.
  • 2015: Internal communications in the Department of Corrections with prison personnel reduced the circumstances of use and the amount of time prisoners can stay in solitary confinement after advocating against and publicizing the over-use by the campaigns.
  • 2016: Won another $2 million for TAD funds in the state budget.

Education

  • Launched an Alternative Teacher Certification project in cooperation with area colleges and the Dorothy Danforth Compton Fellowship Program to train minorities to become teachers in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) system
  • Initiated a successful effort to win statewide funding for 51 additional MPS. SAGE schools to reduce overcrowding and improve instruction by establishing a 15-1 student/teacher classroom ratio in kindergarten through third grade.
  • Convinced the state of Wisconsin to provide $4 million for 24 MPS school nurses.
  • Successfully advocated for the merger of Lloyd Street and Hopkins schools at the Hopkins site, establishing the Hopkins-Lloyd Community School.
  • Gained funding for a part-time community school organizer at Hopkins Lloyd to implement the community school approach.
  • Helped launch and coordinate a mentoring program at several MPS sites by enlisting and training individuals and teams from MICAH congregations and matching them with neighboring schools.
  • Raised awareness of burdens school vouchers put on MPS.
  • 2015: Gained membership on the school governance council of Hopkins-Lloyd Community School (HLCS)

Immigration

  • Successfully pressured the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) offices in Milwaukee to expand their hours of operation, hire bilingual staff, and create easier access to information for immigrants seeking citizenship.
  • Worked on behalf of the DREAM Act, aimed at providing many undocumented college students an avenue for achieving permanent residency.
  • Partnered with Voces de la Frontera and various neighborhood organizations to stand against unjust conditions at Palermo Pizza.
  • Encouraged passage of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors resolution urging caution and humane treatment from the Sherriff Department in arresting and housing detainees.
  • Advocated in 2014, through the offices of Rep. Gwen Moore and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, that federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers end their practices of intrusion into local courts particularly in Milwaukee County.
  • In 2016, as part of the We Are All Milwaukee Coalition, to successfully establish and promote the Milwaukee Municipal ID, t​he ci​ty-issued photo ID which allows undocumented citizens, homeless persons, and others to access local services requiring a government-issued photo identity credential.

Civic Engagement

  • Engaged congregations around the issue of Voter ID and challenged all inner-city religious leaders to make their membership show IDs during service to ensure that they would be prepared to vote.
  • Joined with other community organizations and partners in helping to turn out a record 87 percent of registered voters in the city of Milwaukee in the November 2012 elections.
  • Collaborated with other organizations in a successful effort in 2012 to retain same-day voter registration in Wisconsin and to defeat attempts to require photo ID’s at the time of voting.