Harambee, Wisconsin

Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation

Harambee, Wisconsin

Target Area: Milwaukee (Harambee) and Racine County - Population 200,000+

BCJI Awardee: WestCare Wisconsin, Inc.

Research Partner: WestCare Foundation

Focus Areas: Illegal Guns, Gun Trafficking, Assaults, Gun Violence

BCJI Funding Year: FY2019


Neighborhood Characteristics

WestCare Wisconsin, Inc., (WC-WI) is leading grant efforts to adequately fund programming in the Harambee community of Milwaukee and Racine County. High rates of crime, poverty, unemployment, poor health, struggling schools, and inadequate housing keep many residents and local businesses from reaching their full potential.

The Harambee area, a community full of historic homes and antique churches, encompasses a radius of approximately 160 blocks. Its name signifies two things: the abundant presence of African American residents and a spirit of community that remains rooted in the old neighborhood. "Harambee" is a Swahili word that means "pulling together." The name was adopted by a project of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) Extension in 1974. UWM Extension staff taught courses on political awareness and developed a pilot ombudsman project that supported block leaders and responded to resident complaints, which later became the Harambee Ombudsman Project, Inc. In 2012, Dr. James G. White, a prominent community leader and formerly elected Milwaukee County supervisor, established WC-WI. The WC-WI initiative continued the mission of the Harambee Ombudsman Project., Inc., building on the foundation of 37 years of community outreach experience.

Since 2012, WC-WI and the Milwaukee Police Department have been fighting violence in their city by utilizing available resources and community partnerships. The target area, while in the heart of a historic cultural district, has some disparaging statistics. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 45 percent of residents live below the poverty level, and 25 percent of the working-age population is unemployed, twice the city's unemployment rate (12 percent).

Racine County comprises the Racine metropolitan statistical area (Milwaukee-Racine, Waukesha) and is adjacent to Milwaukee County to the north and Kenosha County to the south. With violence issues crossing county lines, WC-WI partnered with local law enforcement in the Racine community to provide additional crime prevention and protection. The crime rate in Racine is considerably higher than the national average at 29 crimes per 1,000 residents, and the chance of becoming a victim of either violent crime or property crime is 1 in 34.

The lack of employment and economic opportunities in Milwaukee are the leading factors contributing to the risk of structural violence at the community level. Community members indicate that diminished access to essential resources such as health services, food, childcare, transportation, after-school programming, and recreation increases the risk of violence. Racial segregation from opportunities and concentrated disadvantage within the city were identified as prominent risk factors and examples of structural violence. In fact, Milwaukee's zip code area 53206, which is adjacent to the Harambee district, has the highest rate of incarcerated African American men in the United States. In addition, Milwaukee is ranked as one of the most segregated cities in the country, and Wisconsin is ranked as one of the most segregated states.

Planning Phase

The program goals of WC-WI's Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI) initiative are to reduce crime, increase mutual trust, and improve community safety as part of a comprehensive strategy to rebuild Qualified Opportunity Zone (QOZ) neighborhoods and spur revitalization. WC-WI President Travis Landry will lead the management team to formalize cross-sector collaboration. Collectively, the management team will target hot spots of crime and employ data-driven strategies to accomplish this goal. The future vision for the target QOZs is to reverse the trend of violent crime by providing a safe place to live and work.

As the Planning Phase commenced, WC-WI hired Kevin Brown to serve as the BCJI program director. The Planning Phase will include the training and orientation of decision-making processes, conflict resolution, and the development of memorandums of understanding (MOU) and safety partnership agreements within the cross-sector team. The cross-sector management team will discuss and hone violence prevention research strategies and identify diverse primary data collection and distribution sources. This will begin regular data exchanges to address specific crime drivers.

Other Key Partners

Milwaukee Police Department District 5, Grace Fellowship Church of Milwaukee, Racine Police Department, St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church of Racine

This project is supported by Cooperative Agreement No. 2018-BJ-BX-K035 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions contained herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. References to specific agencies, companies, products, or services should not be considered an endorsement by the author(s) or the U.S. Department of Justice. Rather, the references are illustrations to supplement discussion of the issues. 

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