Dear editor,

In 2019, I was part of a local community group that put together a Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, themed How Long? Not Long? During King’s 1965 speech in Montgomery, Alabama, he stated, “I know you are asking today, how long will it take? How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne? How long? Not long because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

I ask Marathon County and its constituents, “How long?” 

The Diversity Affairs Commission’s mission is to “ensure that Marathon County is an open, inclusive and diverse place to live and work, achieve racial and ethnic equity, advocate for minority populations throughout Marathon County, foster cross-cultural understanding, and embrace our diversity.” We are charged with making recommendations to the Executive Committee relative to Marathon County’s internal operations and with engaging external entities in support of the County’s strategic plan: Promote health equity, develop a plan to reduce and eliminate health and social disparities, promote cultural competence and cultivate an environment where cultural diversity can flourish.”

The mission, vision and duties predate the currently seated appointees. We serve out of a commitment to strengthen the community. We are charged with making recommendations, not policies, and sending them to the Executive Committee for review. I was appointed to the Commission because I am passionate about serving people whose voices are often silenced, whose cries go unheard, and whose needs go unnoticed. The county administrator knew I would help shed light on the lived experiences and needs of some of the community’s most vulnerable members.

When the Diversity Affairs Commission created the Community for All resolution, our nation was in an uproar, in the middle of a pandemic and civil unrest. Some of our neighbors felt unsafe, unheard and unseen. The Diversity Affairs Commission’s response was to write somewhat of a love letter to marginalized folks, letting them know they were seen, heard, accepted and valuable members of this community. We stood in solidarity with them and would work to be inclusive, accessible and supportive, including recognizing disparity in its many forms. Marathon County’s board responded, “The resolution is not needed, and it is divisive.”

The Diversity Affairs Commission was charged to do anti-oppression work, which at its core examines harmful ideals that have led to the oppression of certain groups. None of us want to admit that our actions or the actions of our forefathers have harmed and oppressed others, yet it is essential for this to be recognized to move forward as a county and become truly inclusive of all of our members. The Commission expected the Marathon County Board to support us in doing what we were charged to do; and not completely disregard hundreds of hours of work when we sought transparency and accountability, which did not align with the status quo.

The Marathon County Comprehensive plan includes Objective 3.8 Ensure Marathon County is an open, inclusive and diverse place to live and work. The Executive Board tasked the Commission with creating measurable outcomes for the 2018-2022 Strategic Plan. The Diversity Affairs Commission accomplished this task, only for the Executive Committee to vote it down, citing it was no longer considered a priority area in the 2022 Strategic Plan. The Community for All resolution was a byproduct of the Diversity Affairs Commission’s mission; we were encouraged to remove the mission and the word equity from the resolution, contrary to the Commission’s mission statement.   

My feelings about dissolving the Commission are surprisingly ambiguous; if the board intends to appease the Commission by allowing us to convene but block all recommendations simply because the Commission suggested it, I’d prefer the Diversity Affairs Commission be dissolved. I will continue to use my voice to uplift and empower marginalized communities and shed light on their disparities. We are community leaders, which means doing what is right simply because it is right. Marginalized folks have bravely shared stories and spoken about the harm we have experienced in this community; we have said we are being treated differently, we provided data to support the differential treatment, and then the data was disregarded.

Bi-weekly, one of my children comes home and tells me about a racist incident at their schools. I have received an email documenting acts of racism in the schools with feelings of nothing being done. I have also received phone calls from parents talking about how distraught their children of color are because of these traumatic incidents. As we talk about the heightened mental health issues in children, we need to understand that experiences of racism, discrimination and oppression for children of color are core to their suffering mental health.

Comfort is found in silence, and it allows privileged individuals to be complacent and act oblivious to the harmful consequences that racist, homophobic and discriminatory acts cause marginalized communities. The comfort of silence manifests itself in marginalized folks as psychological and physical trauma through symptoms like depression, anxiety, headaches, stomach aches, sore muscles, fatigue and insomnia. It can even mimic disorders such as ADHD or oppositional defiance. I have watched how the comfort of silence, not rocking the boat or standing up has harmed people in our community. We have heard their cries; how can we continue to ignore them?  

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better” (Maya Angelou).

How long Marathon County? 

La’Tanya Campbell, Diversity Affairs Commissioner

Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes commentary from readers, residents and candidates for local offices. The views of readers and columnists are independent of this newspaper and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot & Review. To submit, email or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.