The Recombobulation Area is a weekly opinion column by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.
Disclaimer for listeners: There are some keyboard sounds in the early part of this podcast that might be distracting. Honestly, I just made the silly mistake of putting my recorder too close to the keyboard. The sounds don’t last the whole episode (I figured it out soon enough), so if you get annoyed, just hit that 30-second skip button a few times. Apologies for the error.
The Milwaukee County Office on African American Affairs is still very new. It wasn’t until 2017 that this office became a reality.
Milwaukee is home to some of the most startling racial disparities of any place in the country, so the mission of this office is vital, and its existence was long overdue.
Now, this office’s mission of initiating a “long-term effort to improve the condition of Milwaukee’s African American community” is reverberating throughout county government. Milwaukee County has since become the first jurisdiction in the United States to declare racism as a public health crisis. Milwaukee’s new County Executive, David Crowley — the first Black man elected to serve in the role — has made achieving racial equity a top goal of his new administration.
In July, Crowley appointed Jeff Roman to lead the department.
“Jeff Roman is an organizer and a mobilizer,” Crowley said in the press release announcing his nomination. “With Jeff at the helm of the Office on African American Affairs, I’m certain we can bring together our communities and institutions to achieve health and racial equity for all.”
Roman previously worked as a commissioner and chair of the Milwaukee Equal Rights Commission, and has also worked in leadership roles with Urban Roots Milwaukee, Milwaukee County Brighter Futures and Milwaukee Minority Male Achievement Program, and the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute. His nomination was later approved by the County Board.
The Milwaukee County Office on African American Affairs (OAAA) is currently holding a series of virtual open house meetings to talk about what’s next for the office under Roman’s leadership.
Before this week’s meeting, Roman sat down with The Recombobulation Area to talk about his background, the work that brought him on the path to this role, what’s next for the OAAA, and much more.
“We are all a part of the solution,” Roman said during our conversation. “We are all responsible and need to all be held accountable for making the Milwaukee that we want to see today, tomorrow and in the future. And the burden of doing that work can’t fall on certain communities or certain people. We all play a role.”
Learn more about Roman and the work the OAAA is doing at county.milwaukee.gov/OAAA.
Dan Shafer is a journalist from Milwaukee who writes and publishes The Recombobulation Area. He previously worked at Seattle Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine, and BizTimes Milwaukee. He’s also written for The Daily Beast, WisPolitics, and Milwaukee Record. He’s on Twitter at @DanRShafer.
Follow Dan Shafer on Twitter at @DanRShafer.