WAUSAU, WI (WSAU) -- What started as an educational workshop for diversity and inclusivity training for Wausau city leaders became a discussion about how minorities struggle in the city, and how to change that.
People for the Power of Love Director and District 1 Alder candidate Christopher Norfleet took it upon himself to challenge the council to acknowledge the racial divide in the community and take action to change it.
He said that it starts by making room at the table for minorities. "Allow those voices of social and economic change to be heard, make room at that table. Instead of constantly telling us what we need, make sure you know what we need and then pursue it as if we were white people."
Norfleet made his initial comments after the presenters showed a video about how housing discrimination practices decades ago are still impacting lives today, about halfway through the two-hour workshop. That led to a dialog among those in the room that included input from Council President Lisa Rasmussen, Alders Tom Neal and Mary Thao, and a 19-year-old resident named Kailee who said she feels ready to leave Wausau after completing her degree because of the segregation she sees in the community.
Norfleet, who has been known to cause disturbances with outbursts at public meetings similar to his comments on Wednesday, said he feels this time his message did connect with those in leadership roles. "I think they were more responsive, more of them did acknowledge that, and maybe [now] we do get a response."
At the close of the meeting, Professor Kelly Wilz of UWSP and Greg Wright of Create Portage County challenged the council and others in leadership positions to consult with minorities and use their feedback to inform their votes.
Norfleet added that he wants to see more diverse representation on all local governing bodies including the Marathon County Board and Wausau School Board. "We need to infuse the infrastructure of power with the presence of black people. I don't think we need to have an upper hand to create equality, we just need equality to have equality."
No further training session was immediately scheduled but both Wilz and Wright agreed that further sessions should include presentations from minorities in Wausau.