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In 2017, the Wisconsin Policy Forum uncovered troubling trends across Greater Racine. When our Resilient Communities Roundtable discussions further uncovered a lack of understanding about disparities across Greater Racine’s populations, The Johnson Foundation decided to launch a new kind of conversation.

We began by listening, guided by a community advisory panel who recommended we focus on four areas: education, economy, health, and justice. In neighborhoods across Racine, we heard from grassroots and community leaders and nearly 300 community members who shared their experiences and perspectives. Their stories shed light on how we can build a more equitable and prosperous region for all.  

Our region’s diversity is our strength and the key to our success. We can build on this strength by focusing attention and resources on the neighborhoods and people most affected by these issues. Individually and collectively, we can make the Racine region a better place for all to live, work and enjoy—one conversation, one project, one day at a time.

Demographics

Racine County’s total population increased over the last 20 years from 188,831 to 197,727. However, the City of Racine’s population decreased from around 82,000 to 78,000.

The county’s population would be declining if not for growth in communities of color. Of particular note, Racine County’s Hispanic or Latino population has nearly doubled since 2000. And in 2020, the City of Racine was 46% White, 23% Black or African American, and 24% Hispanic or Latino.

Given these demographic trends, communities of color are increasingly important to the future of Racine County.
More detailed information can be found in the full Racine Speaks report

Education

In conversations with Racine Unified School District high school students, parents of K-12 students, non-graduates, teachers, principals, and counselors, we heard that people see pronounced racial disparities; participants said there is unequal access to essential resources and want successful programs expanded to all schools.
They seek better anti-racism training for teachers and administrative staff, and greater diversity in staff and curriculum; clear, consistent leadership and communication; and efforts to build community beyond the school, supporting all children.
“The majority of parents care.”
- Principals
In conversations with Racine Unified School District high school students, parents of K-12 students, non-graduates, teachers, principals, and counselors, we heard that people see pronounced racial disparities; participants said there is unequal access to essential resources and want successful programs expanded to all schools.
They seek better anti-racism training for teachers and administrative staff, and greater diversity in staff and curriculum; clear, consistent leadership and communication; and efforts to build community beyond the school, supporting all children.
“The majority of parents care.”
- Principals

Key Themes & Participant Recommendations

Key Themes & Participant Recommendations

Racial Equity

No one sees equal opportunity. Every conversation revealed perceived differences in access to the resources essential for education.

Understanding starts with education on racism. Some teachers want to hear from people in the community and those with lived experiences.

Diversity and representation are missing in staff and curriculum. Parents and teachers want to see better representation in textbooks and among staff.

School Quality

Classrooms have too many students and not enough resources. Parents and students say the traditional classroom setup isn’t always effective, especially with more students and fewer teachers and aides.

Leadership and communications lack clarity and consistency.
Teachers want more consistency from administration. Students asked for more understanding and patience from teachers—while parents encouraged staff to listen to kids more.

There are programs that work—let’s expand them.
Parents pointed to examples of success, such as the Community Schools and Academies of Racine models.

Building Community

Trust is in short supply, with more focus on blame. The longing for mutual respect came through in conversations with every group.

"Community" extends beyond the school walls.
Participants want to see more involvement from Racine businesses, community leaders, families and mentors.

Students, families and teachers are eager to participate in decision-making.
Students, parents and teachers want to have more of a voice in decisions that affect them.
More detailed information can be found in the full Racine Speaks report

Economy

In conversations with people who were unemployed, low-wage/underemployed, and working women and mothers, we heard that the minimum wage is too low, especially with rising rents. Participants said opportunity is limited by race, gender and background. They seek more affordable talent development opportunities and childcare, and workplace flexibility that supports employees. In conversation with business owners, we heard that our community lacks a shared vision and shared responsibility. Participants want to see more cross-collaboration across borders and sectors, entrepreneurship support, and qualified job candidates.
“In a digital economy, people can live almost anywhere - how do we get people to stay here?"
- Business owners
In conversations with people who were unemployed, low-wage/underemployed, and working women and mothers, we heard that the minimum wage is too low, especially with rising rents. Participants said opportunity is limited by race, gender and background. They seek more affordable talent development opportunities and childcare, and workplace flexibility that supports employees. In conversation with business owners, we heard that our community lacks a shared vision and shared responsibility. Participants want to see more cross-collaboration across borders and sectors, entrepreneurship support, and qualified job candidates.
“In a digital economy, people can live almost anywhere - how do we get people to stay here?"
- Business owners

Key Themes & Participant Recommendations

Key Themes & Participant Recommendations

Equity & Opportunity

Willingness to work collides with the minimum wage wall. Participants described working two or three jobs to pay their bills. Business owners, however, said Racine has more jobs than people to fill them.

Opportunity is limited by race, gender and background.
Participants want to see more work place diversity, women in leadership positions, and less discrimination against formerly incarcerated individuals.

Workers bear responsibility—and have bigger goals.
While participants want action from agencies and employers, they also emphasized mutual support and personal responsibility.

Talent Development

Knowledge is power, but education is costly. All groups recognized the value of enhancing skills; among the barriers cited are time, cost and childcare.

Talent development programs can be inaccessible or underused.
Participants said it’s hard to know what resources are available or where to start. They also feel held back by job and education requirements.

Workplace Attributes

Childcare and transportation can help overcome barriers. Employer assistance with transportation and childcare can be a lifeline for residents.

Workplace culture focuses on work, not people.
Participants described inflexible attendance policies and point systems. Temp agency policies also create barriers to benefits and stable employment.

Housing

Rent and wages are out of balance. Participants said increased demand has created a spike in rents. Tenants are also being pushed out as rental properties sell.

There is resistance to certain types of housing -- and certain tenants.
Section 8 housing is in short supply, participants said. Others noted that rental properties aren’t being maintained and background checks serve as another barrier to securing housing.
More detailed information can be found in the full Racine Speaks report

Health

In conversations with parents of young children, adults with limited access to healthcare, healthcare providers, and environmental leaders, we heard that quality healthcare is not seen as a given for people of all races. There is a fear of receiving diagnoses and treatment, exacerbated by barriers such as language, lack of healthcare literacy, and the spread of misinformation. Community safety is also a concern as gun violence affects daily life and stress levels. Additionally, participants want more focus on addressing causes of health issues and prevention, making healthy food available in all neighborhoods, and increasing environmental literacy.
“I want to not worry about shootings while my kids are outside on their bikes."
- Parents of young children
In conversations with parents of young children, adults with limited access to healthcare, healthcare providers, and environmental leaders, we heard that quality healthcare is not seen as a given for people of all races. There is a fear of receiving diagnoses and treatment, exacerbated by barriers such as language, lack of healthcare literacy, and the spread of misinformation. Community safety is also a concern as gun violence affects daily life and stress levels. Additionally, participants want more focus on addressing causes of health issues and prevention, making healthy food available in all neighborhoods, and increasing environmental literacy.
“I want to not worry about shootings while my kids are outside on their bikes."
- Parents of young children

Key Themes & Participant Recommendations

Key Themes & Participant Recommendations

Healthcare Quality

Quality care isn't seen as a given. Some participants said they’ve experienced racial discrimination. Others said doctors were too quick to medicate their children.

Experiences lead to mistrust.
Many participants talked about fears – unexpected diagnoses, hospitalization, or being denied care

Staff shortages affect quality.
Healthcare professionals said quality can improve with better communication, but physician and nursing shortages make that a challenge.

Healthcare Access, Literacy and Prevention

Barriers can be as basic as transportation and language, and as complex as healthcare literacy. All groups said insurance coverage is hard to understand.  Some also stated that access remains a challenge for men.

Mental health is receiving attention - now even more is needed.
Participants said that with more awareness of mental health issues, it’s time for action, especially for children.

Credible information is often last in the noise. Healthcare providers expressed frustration with misinformation on social media and via word-of-mouth.

There are other options to pursue. Parents of young children said they want more focus on causes and prevention instead of medication -- and healthy food available in all neighborhoods.

Environmental Literacy & Policies

A compromised environment has far-reaching effects. Environmental leaders said asthma and issues from pollution affect learning. Creating more greenspace in high poverty areas can also reduce stress.

Some neighborhoods suffer disproportionately.
Contamination from long-ago businesses affects Racine’s south side, impacting their ability to grow food. Some residents may also deal with lead and mold in their homes.

Engagement can create success. Environmental leaders said education on topics such as recycling have successfully involved the community and are a form of prevention.

Community Safety

Taking children outside is stressful. Participants feel that neighborhoods lack a sense of community. A parent of young children said she fears fights as well as shootings.

Gun violence is affecting everyday life.
Community members are experiencing trauma from the increase in shootings.
More detailed information can be found in the full Racine Speaks report

Justice

In conversations with adults involved in the justice system, their parents and family members, law enforcement officers, public defenders and attorneys, we heard that there are racial disparities in arrests and sentencing, heightened by a lack of affordable legal representation. Both law enforcement officers and community members said stereotypes and lack of trust pose challenges. Participants want more resources for rehabilitation, system-wide mental health support, decriminalization and better communication between system leaders.
“I work at a C.O.P. house...we have 1-2 dozen kids that come to the house constantly, looking for that role model."
- Law enforcement officers
In conversations with adults involved in the justice system, their parents and family members, law enforcement officers, public defenders and attorneys, we heard that there are racial disparities in arrests and sentencing, heightened by a lack of affordable legal representation. Both law enforcement officers and community members said stereotypes and lack of trust pose challenges. Participants want more resources for rehabilitation, system-wide mental health support, decriminalization and better communication between system leaders.
“I work at a C.O.P. house...we have 1-2 dozen kids that come to the house constantly, looking for that role model."
- Law enforcement officers

Key Themes & Participant Recommendations

Key Themes & Participant Recommendations

Equity & Opportunity

Racial disparities in arrests and sentencing are real. Participants discussed experiencing discrimination in arrests. They also said minorities receive stiffer sentences than their white counterparts.

The system as a whole is broken.
Some groups said they are frustrated with resistance to change, while others wanted better communication.

Decriminalization offers a path forward.
Some groups emphasized decriminalizing marijuana and focus resources elsewhere.

Rehabilitation

Support is missing at every step. Participants want relevant programs and education inside the jails and prisons. Others stated how parole presents as a barrier rather than a support.

Mental health support is especially needed
—not only for rehabilitation, but also for those who work in the system. People who have been incarcerated, law enforcement personnel and attorneys all described experiencing trauma.

Belief in the possibility of reform is needed to overcome long-term barriers.
The lack of family-supporting employment opportunities is a major challenge to rehabilitation. Many also stated the importance of taking personal responsibility.

Access & Affordability

Legal representation is expensive; legal aid caseloads are overwhelming.  People entering the system have little support – private attorneys are taking less cases resulting in overworked public defenders, which can impact the quality of representation.

Fees strain individual and family finances.
Participants mentioned a barrage of unexpected fees when going through the system.

Inclusivity can help.
Some believe we would see less bias and better outcomes with broader representation at every level of the system.

Police-Community Relations

Stereotypes affect perceptions and reactions. Law enforcement officers said portrayals on television and in social media lead to misunderstanding about their work. Other community members said they are stereotyped by law enforcement.

Programs help build trust, but it’s not easy.
Parents and family members said they remain wary of interactions with police. Law enforcement officers noted positive results from C.O.P. houses and youth intervention programs, though challenges with trust remain.

Success requires shared accountability.
Community members discussed the power of their collective voice and keeping one another accountable. Law enforcement officials stressed the importance of getting out of their cars and connecting with the community.
More detailed information can be found in the full Racine Speaks report

It's Time to Act!