Sheboygan nonprofit Black American Community Outreach is up and running

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SHEBOYGAN – A few years ago, Michael Thomas wanted to form a group to support black leadership, but he was living in Milwaukee at the time, and the people he approached had a lot to do. Nothing came of it.

But after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last year, reigniting the racial justice movement across the country, “I felt the need to bring him back to the table,” Thomas said. , 38 years old.

A year later, a new nonprofit, Black American Community Outreach, is in full swing. They organized barbecues, wrapped Christmas presents and gave food to those in need. They organized community events and found ways to help wherever they could.

And they’ve established a pantry at Hope Community Church, where Thomas is the chief pastor.

Thomas’ vision was on performance, and he wanted people “who had a heart to serve” to be involved. He was looking for people he knew to love in the community.

He had never organized anything like this before, but “I just knew there was a need,” he said.

In August last year, the group (which obtained association status in October) organized a march for unity. Law enforcement officials, city officials and community members tied the guns and marched from Fountain Park to the Sheboygan County Courthouse. More than 100 people attended and, Thomas said, BACO plans to redo the march in August.

BACO also hosts the Second Town of Juneteenth Celebration, a holiday that commemorates the day Union soldiers told African Americans still enslaved in Galveston, Texas, that they were free, on June 19, 1865. Last year’s event was not hosted by BACO but featured free food, music and a raffle. BACO plans to grow the event every year and it is open to anyone who wishes to come.

A community forum is also planned for July. Thomas said the group is preparing to host annual events, such as the barbecue, which will take place in September.

“I think it’s high time that we had an organization made up mostly of black individuals who are all successful in their own right and just come forward for the community,” said La Tasha Jackett, a 29-year-old woman who has turned up. involved when her mother said she told her about all the community events she saw the group organize.

In addition to a pantry, BACO has set up a “career closet” for people who need something professional to wear for job interviews.

Michael Thomas of Black American Community Outreach moves donated items to a nearby shelf on Wednesday, May 19, 2021, in the pantry that the organization has developed in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

And the work of the group also takes other forms. Leslie Laster, 45, BACO’s Director for Education and Leadership, presented diversity to city staff and other groups.

Laster, who was elected to city council last week, hopes BACO can help support black youth in the community, and noted a lack of diversity among teachers, principals and administrators.

Kids need to see successful role models who are like them, Laster said.

A lot of people “only know people of color and black people from what they see on television, and we all know this is often a misrepresentation, especially of black men.” Laster said. “We want to be that resource for the community to bring people together.”

Gianna Schwarten, 27, said she wanted to see more African Americans involved in the community.

“I feel like a lot of them just don’t get involved because they don’t know where to start or who to contact,” Schwarten said, “Or maybe they didn’t. just don’t feel like there isn’t enough to support them. “

To be involved

BACO is always evolving. If a member has a particular skill set or interest, the nonprofit will support them as long as their work helps focus on education, mentoring, and community events.

Anyone can join the association and look for new members. Thomas said they were developing ways for people to be “friends of the community” of the nonprofit without having to attend all of the meetings, allowing them to participate and donate when they do. can. Thomas said they also hope to have friends from the business community – the same concept, but with businesses.

For Alderman Betty Ackley, the group gave her a place to connect with people facing similar challenges. Ackley, whose father is Japanese and whose mother is white, said she often tries to blend in with society because she was bullied and racist as a child and even occasionally to l ‘adulthood.

When she went to one of BACO’s meetings in July of last year with a diversity program that the city was considering, “I collapsed into this room of people who understood where I was coming from. but on a much deeper level, ”she said. “It was very emotional for me because most people assume I’m white, but I’m not.”

Ackley, 47, remained involved after that, and she is the social president and co-secretary of the association.

Ackley would also like the city council to continue to be more diverse, she said. She reminds people that “change starts at home” and for that to happen people need to get involved in local politics.

Those interested in joining, volunteering, or donating can contact Black American Community Outreach through their Facebook page. Visit their website at blackamericancommunityoutreach.org.

The pantry is located at Hope Community Church, 2916 S. 11th St., and is open Wednesdays from 9 am to 11 am and Saturdays from 6 pm to 7 pm. hygiene products and products are also accepted.

Members of the Black American Community Pantry pose in the Pantry Wednesday, May 19, 2021, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  From left to right: Santino Laster, Betty Ackley, Emma Ackley, 9, Toni White, La Tasha Jackett, Gianna Schwarten and Michael Thomas, all of Sheboygan.

“It’s not just about training people of color,” Laster said of BACO, “It’s about building community and creating a mutual understanding that, you know, we all want the same things. . “

Contact Diana Dombrowski at (920) 242-7079 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @domdomdiana


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