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Mixed Feelings for Members of New WI Equity Council

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 As Black History Month begins, 30 people have been appointed to a council, which will recommend diversity and inclusion practices for Wisconsin state government.

Before its first meeting, two appointees expressed hope and uncertainty about what lies ahead.

This week, Gov. Tony Evers appointed a range of leaders to serve on the advisory council, created after multiple studies showed Wisconsin with some of the worst racial disparities in the U.S., especially for Black residents.

Mai Xiong, an Eau Claire City Council member and a member of the council, said many racial groups face obstacles. In her part of the state, she cites a disconnect with leadership roles.

"Community-leading organizations, where the makeup of an organization is probably predominately white in this area," Xiong explained.

The Eau Claire-area has seen its Hmong population grow to more than 3,000, but Xiong observed unlike larger cities in the state, her region has a harder time establishing diverse leadership because the population is still largely white.

She hopes her work on the Eau Claire City Council, such as helping with anti-racism strategies, can influence guidelines to be discussed by the advisory council.

Ruben Hopkins, chair of the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce, also on the council, said it's too early to tell whether the initiative will have any impact.

He wants to push for practices that eventually lead to greater economic development in Black communities.

"We have communities that have gone underdeveloped, underserved, you know, for generations," Hopkins remarked.

Historians say past discriminatory housing policies in cities like Milwaukee meant families in Black neighborhoods were left out of building generational wealth.

Hopkins worries because the panel is advisory, it won't lead to substantial policy changes.

The governor said the council will guide his office and the Department of Administration in developing a framework to advance diversity, equity and inclusion practices across state government.