On the Table participants gather to discuss community problems, solutions

UWM’s Golda Meir Library Conference Center buzzed with a diverse ensemble of voices Thursday participating in the region-wide On the Table MKE event.

On the Table MKE, led by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, aims to create communication and collaboration as guests discuss ideas and get feedback on important issues.

At UWM, university and community members examined important topics in education, health care disparities, race and diversity at 15 tables. In all, more than 100 On the Table MKE conversations took place this year.

“The whole purpose of the series is to create a shared space, time and venue for having conversations with people who share the same interests and concerns,” said Angie Izard, director of multicultural projects in Global Inclusion and Engagement at UWM. “We hope that these ideas will be developed and will lead to some real initiative or action.”

UWM’s On the Table MKE attracted dozens of participants from the university and community. (UWM Photo/Troye Fox)

This is the third year UWM has participated as a “super host” for the event.

The university has earned this title by featuring a wide range of topics that encourage partnership and collaboration in the greater Milwaukee area, according to Izard.

“Some of these table conversations actually include students,” Izard said. “This is an incredible out-of-classroom learning experience and an opportunity to provide meaningful feedback on issues that pertain to them.”

Over coffee and breakfast, participants were given 90 minutes to exchange perspectives and engage with community concerns.

Neighborhood change

At table four, Bobby McQuay, a community and safety outreach specialist with Near West Side Partners of Milwaukee, shared ideas about neighborhood change as a part of a discussion on urban planning.

“Our table had a great conversation all the way up to the buzzer,” McQuay said. “We covered the gamut when it comes to neighborhood planning.”

The table discussed various concerns in Milwaukee neighborhoods, including safety, gentrification, police interaction and affordable housing near jobs.

“One of the first steps in moving forward is understanding different perspectives and filling in gaps,” McQuay said. “Whether or not something grandiose comes directly from these conversations, local connections and warm introductions make a difference, especially when dealing with a fragile population.”

These “warm introductions” allowed McQuay to establish connections with Christine Nuernberg, former mayor of Mequon; Nancy Frank, interim dean of UWM’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning; and Paul Smith of the Milwaukee Christian Center.

Making Milwaukee more inclusive

Nadiyah Johnson of Jet Constellations and the Milky Way Tech Hub is working to brand Milwaukee as home to the nation’s most inclusive and diverse tech community.

At table five, she and others discussed diversity, inclusion and equity in businesses specializing in information tech services. The conversation sparked awareness and encouraged transparency on some of the challenges and barriers of ethnicity and skin color in Milwaukee’s tech ecosystem, according to Johnson.

“I’ve been meditating on Maya Angelou’s quote that says ‘courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently,’ and I think that people need courage to be able to make bold statements, bold asks and bold moves to empower these folks,” Johnson said. “When you touch one person, it can make a significant impact.”

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