Supporting intercultural exchange and appreciation in Green Bay, Wis.
The Multicultural Center of Greater Green Bay opened its doors in January of 2001, after several months with just a small office in the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation space. The events leading to the center’s creation began almost a decade earlier, with an unfortunate racial incident in the fall of 1992, when a group of white high school students attacked the home of an African American engineer and his family following a school-yard conflict between white students and his son. The students insulted and threatened his wife and infant, but when the police responded they dealt only with the conflict between the black and white students and ignored the insults and threats to the African American family. They felt vulnerable and helpless.
A group of concerned citizens began meeting to discuss that incident and other general racial issues. They decided it was important to keep working, and formed the Coalition to Promote Respect. This group worked to promote understanding and mutual appreciation among Brown County’s diverse peoples. The Coalition, known as CPR, organized a mediation session between the African American family and the police, which resulted in the police chief saying the meeting was a revelation to him and he had not appreciated the perspective of the African American family. He asked CPR to help organize a committee, known as the group Police and Community Together, of police officials and diverse members of the community. They met regularly for several years to discuss race relations and to help police efforts to recruit more diverse officers.
CPR initiated a number of programs to promote understanding, ranging from diversity themed dinners, to bringing a number of nationally known diversity trainers to Green Bay, including Lee Mun Wah, Dr. Adrian Chan, and a few others. CPR got grants from the Wisconsin Humanities Council and then the National Endowment for the Humanities to conduct discussion groups including people of color and leaders from the larger community in a series of meetings to discuss questions related to diversity. CPR cooperated with the Hmong community to sponsor a dinner for invited community leaders cooked by Hmong with a series of Hmong speakers and dancers. There were many other activities.
These efforts had a clear impact on the community, and CPR was recognized with a civic award from Mayor Jadin and was invited to be one of three community groups featured when Green Bay competed in, and won, the All America City competition in Philadelphia in 1999.
By 1999, CPR had decided to try to obtain a building to be a Multicultural Center to help institutionalize and strengthen the efforts of various groups working to promote inclusion of all peoples in community life. CPR joined with the Northeast Wisconsin African American Association, Latinos Unidos, and the United Hmong Community Center to seek a building to support the work of these and other groups. They held a series of several meetings, including about 3 representatives of each major racial group, including white, to discuss whether there should be a Center and if so, what it should be like. There was widespread and enthusiastic support for the idea, and they began looking for a suitable building.
After several unsuccessful attempts of these all-volunteer groups to secure an appropriate building, with the help of the Provost of UWGB, and the head of Green Bay operations of Procter & Gamble, CPR applied for grants from the Green Bay Redevelopment Authority and the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation to hire a Director to expand these efforts. The two grants allowed CPR and the cooperating groups to hire a former lawyer, J. Allen Johnson, as Executive Director of the Multicultural Center in 2000.
Working out of a small office provided by the Community Foundation, Johnson organized a hugely successful breakfast, attended by over 400 people, to introduce the idea of the Center to the community. He helped find space in Grace Presbyterian Church on Stuart Street for the Center. Building Contractor Chris Swan recruited a hundred volunteers, made a contribution, and refurbished part of the Church for use by the Center. Using this space, the Multicultural Center of Greater Green Bay opened its doors in January, 2001.
The Center got off to a fast start, raising financial resources and instituting a number of significant activities. Contacts made through the Center led to Building Contractor Chris Swan, with a grant from the Redevelopment Authority and dozens of volunteers, refurbishing the United Hmong Community Center, inside and out, from first floor through second. When the renovation of Lambeau Field began, the Center played a key role in helping the contractors meet their goal of 15 % of new employees working on the renovation being people of color. The Center recruited prospective employees and assisted with the application process.
The effort to recruit employees for the Lambeau Field renovation was successful, but it was clear that many who sought jobs did not have the needed qualifications. The Center hired a Latino Liaison Officer to help people who needed work, but were not comfortable with existing employment services to find good jobs. This employee also helped make the Center a referral services for those who needed ways of utilizing the variety of community resources available.
The Center conducts a wide variety of programs on its own, though its main purpose was supporting other groups in achieving their goals. The Center sponsors an annual Rainbow Children’s Arts Festival, now called the Multicultural Children and family Festival, an all day program in a park held at the end of July or early August. The purpose of the Festival is to bring people together to share and enjoy cultures. Also getting to know and appreciate one another and to help develop the talents and confidence of youth by showcasing their artistic talents and giving them a supportive atmosphere to perform and grow.
The Center has also held a series of popular ethnic cooking classes, helped sponsor an International Dance performance at the Meyer Theater, held listening sessions for the County Executive and the Mayor of Green Bay to hear the views on diverse groups on the then proposed “English Only” county ordinance. They also provided space for multicultural groups to discuss responses to such issues. The Center has organized diversity training sessions for different community agencies. It has run a mentoring program which served hundreds of students at East High; held two Multi-ethnic Youth Leadership Conferences, each involving hundreds of students from Green Bay and Oneida Nation schools, provided speakers for community groups, and held two Ethnic Summits, which each brought over a hundred people of diverse races together to discuss issues facing the community. The Center maintains a free library of several hundred volumes on diversity topics.
A founding purpose of the Multicultural Center has been to serve as an incubator for community groups representing diverse groups or dealing with issues related to diversity. The Center would provide space and other support for such groups, normally until they grew strong enough to find their own space and support, freeing Center resources to help other groups. At the Center’s first year anniversary, in January of 2002, 29 different groups reported how the Center had helped them.
Groups using the Center have included the Northeast Wisconsin African American Association, two Mexican dance groups, the Guardian Angles training in self-defense, a Belgian opera, a Polynesian dance group, African drummers, an Islamic Prayer Group, an African-American investment club, Toddlers Diversity Play Group, fledgling churches, Laotian language classes, a Somali cultural and language group, a Southeast Asian football league, and many others. For much of its life, the Center has been short of space for all the groups who want to use it.
Unfortunately, Grace Presbyterian Church congregation was decommissioned and eventually the church building was sold to a private firm which renovated the building for its use. In 2006, the Multicultural Center moved temporarily into the education building of St. John’s Church. In 2007, the Center relocated to the Divine Community Development Corporation, associated with the Divine Temple. The Multicultural Center is now located on the second floor of the YWCA on Madison Street.
The Center brings people together to learn, to understand, and cooperate with each other. The Center continues to provide meeting space and other assistance to groups supporting diversity, to promote cultural programming and education, to advocate the full inclusion of all peoples. Anyone wishing to help with these goals or who would like the support of the Multicultural Center is invited to contact us at 920-438-1660, firstname.lastname@example.org