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Brisco wants to see an active approach as new MICAH leader

Posted by: Website Admin on 11/20/2010
By Annysa Johnson of the Journal Sentinel


The Rev. Willie Brisco stood in the crowd outside the Talgo Co. train plant this week as hundreds rallied in support of a proposed high-speed rail line and the jobs it's projected to bring to Milwaukee.

An associate minister at New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church, Brisco lent his voice as the incoming president of MICAH, an interfaith coalition that has been at the forefront of most social justice issues over the last two decades, from housing and job initiatives to immigration and health care reform.

Demonstrations like the one at Talgo are important, Brisco said, if only to show there's strength in numbers. But for real progress, he said, MICAH will need to leverage that strength with power brokers in the city and state.

"I look back at Dr. Martin Luther King and all the marches and all that he stood for, and it was always about jobs," said Brisco, a retired county corrections officer-turned minister who took over this week as president of MICAH - Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope.

"Would he be proud that we're marching today? A little," Brisco said.

"But he would want us to be in the boardrooms now. To have real success, we'll need to be in offices of business leaders and legislators, even in the office of our governor."

Spirited session

Brisco was installed at a spirit-filled annual meeting Thursday night that drew more than 400 people, including religious and civic leaders, from around the Milwaukee area to New Covenant, at N. 38th St. and W. North Ave.

One-by-one, representatives of its 32 member organizations took the microphone to herald MICAH's successes over the years and announce, amid thunderous applause, "I am MICAH" and "I am here to do what's just in Milwaukee."

The meeting showcased some of MICAH's latest initiatives, including a partnership to create a community school at Hopkins Elementary on Milwaukee's north side; and the recent allocation of $300,000 in Milwaukee County funds to renovate facilities at Lindberg Park near N. 15th St. and W. Keefe Ave.

Brisco comes in at a time of both challenges and promise for the 22-year-old organization. Hit hard by the recession, it lost significant financial support, leaving it in a deficit the last two years and forcing it to eliminate staff.

But membership is growing again with the addition of five new congregations in 2009, and it hopes to hire a full-time organizer in January.

Brisco's priorities, he said, would be to collaborate with other like-minded organizations and increase MICAH's membership.

"You wouldn't believe the number of churches that say 'That's not our mission.' But how can it not be? Everything we deal with at MICAH and in ministry - poverty, drugs, lack of education and opportunity - is tied together," he said.

Corrections post

Brisco retired in 2008 as assistant superintendent of the House of Corrections amid controversy about its management. He's been criticized by both Sheriff David A. Clarke and the corrections officers union for problems there, including mandatory overtime and low morale.

"He ran the place into the ground," said Kevin Schoofs, president of the corrections officers union Local 567.

But others defended his work there.

"He did the best he could with the resources available to him," said Milwaukee County Chief Judge Jeffrey Kremers, who attended Thursday's MICAH meeting.

Former MICAH President Joe Ellwanger, who recruited Brisco two years ago, said he was drawn by his "passion for justice and for people who experience challenges and injustices in their lives."

"He sees a clear connection between his faith and doing justice in the public square."

That, said Brisco, grew out of his work in the House of Corrections where he saw first hand the misery wrought by poverty, drug addiction and lack of opportunity.

"I saw so many talented, intelligent men who made the wrong turn," he said. "I've also seen people that jails were designed for, but they're not the majority."

The Rev. Willie Brisco stood in the crowd outside the Talgo Co. train plant this week as hundreds rallied in support of a proposed high-speed rail line and the jobs it's projected to bring to Milwaukee.

An associate minister at New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church, Brisco lent his voice as the incoming president of MICAH, an interfaith coalition that has been at the forefront of most social justice issues over the last two decades, from housing and job initiatives to immigration and health care reform.

Demonstrations like the one at Talgo are important, Brisco said, if only to show there's strength in numbers. But for real progress, he said, MICAH will need to leverage that strength with power brokers in the city and state.

"I look back at Dr. Martin Luther King and all the marches and all that he stood for, and it was always about jobs," said Brisco, a retired county corrections officer-turned minister who took over this week as president of MICAH - Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope.

"Would he be proud that we're marching today? A little," Brisco said.

"But he would want us to be in the boardrooms now. To have real success, we'll need to be in offices of business leaders and legislators, even in the office of our governor."

Spirited session

Brisco was installed at a spirit-filled annual meeting Thursday night that drew more than 400 people, including religious and civic leaders, from around the Milwaukee area to New Covenant, at N. 38th St. and W. North Ave.

One-by-one, representatives of its 32 member organizations took the microphone to herald MICAH's successes over the years and announce, amid thunderous applause, "I am MICAH" and "I am here to do what's just in Milwaukee."

The meeting showcased some of MICAH's latest initiatives, including a partnership to create a community school at Hopkins Elementary on Milwaukee's north side; and the recent allocation of $300,000 in Milwaukee County funds to renovate facilities at Lindberg Park near N. 15th St. and W. Keefe Ave.

Brisco comes in at a time of both challenges and promise for the 22-year-old organization. Hit hard by the recession, it lost significant financial support, leaving it in a deficit the last two years and forcing it to eliminate staff.

But membership is growing again with the addition of five new congregations in 2009, and it hopes to hire a full-time organizer in January.

Brisco's priorities, he said, would be to collaborate with other like-minded organizations and increase MICAH's membership.

"You wouldn't believe the number of churches that say 'That's not our mission.' But how can it not be? Everything we deal with at MICAH and in ministry - poverty, drugs, lack of education and opportunity - is tied together," he said.

Corrections post

Brisco retired in 2008 as assistant superintendent of the House of Corrections amid controversy about its management. He's been criticized by both Sheriff David A. Clarke and the corrections officers union for problems there, including mandatory overtime and low morale.

"He ran the place into the ground," said Kevin Schoofs, president of the corrections officers union Local 567.

But others defended his work there.

"He did the best he could with the resources available to him," said Milwaukee County Chief Judge Jeffrey Kremers, who attended Thursday's MICAH meeting.

Former MICAH President Joe Ellwanger, who recruited Brisco two years ago, said he was drawn by his "passion for justice and for people who experience challenges and injustices in their lives."

"He sees a clear connection between his faith and doing justice in the public square."

That, said Brisco, grew out of his work in the House of Corrections where he saw first hand the misery wrought by poverty, drug addiction and lack of opportunity.

"I saw so many talented, intelligent men who made the wrong turn," he said. "I've also seen people that jails were designed for, but they're not the majority."

Original Article:

http://www.jsonline.com/features/religion/109360264.html

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