Safe & Sound’s new executive director seeks to empower residents to solve problems

Bridget Whitaker, 43, was named executive director of Safe & Sound in April. “I want to amplify the voices of residents, especially young people, to address what they think is important and that’s how we can make a difference,” she says. (Photo courtesy of Safe & Sound)

By Edgar Mendez

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories about fifteen neighborhoods in the city of Milwaukee.   

Safety is different for different people, says Bridget Whitaker, new executive director of Safe & Sound.

“For some it’s knowing your kids can cross the street and play in the park, and for others the problem is a nuisance house throwing after-hours parties,” she said. declared.

Whitaker, who served as program director and senior director of operations and administration at safe and sound before being named executive director in April, says the way to solve these problems and others like reckless driving is to work together.

“Creating collective impact is the basis for us to turn the corner on what we see,” she said.

Whitaker, 43, took over as head of Safe & Sound after Joe’Mar Hooper, who became executive director in 2020, stepped down this year to take on a new role in Arizona. Prior to Hooper, Safe & Sound was run for six years by Katie Sanders.

The nonprofit serves 10 different priority areas across the city, engaging residents, businesses, community organizations and law enforcement to address safety issues in these neighborhoods. The organization organizes events such as neighborhood clean-ups, crime and safety meetings that include law enforcement, youth advocacy and convening the West 27th Street Drug Free Coalition.

According to the Safe & Sound annual report for 2020, the latest available, the organization’s representatives spent 5,397 hours connecting directly with residents in 2020, engaged more than 3,000 young people and reduced more than 1,100 incidents. harmful.

Despite the group’s efforts and those of many others in the city, crime, including shootings and murders, has increased in recent years. Whitaker says she realizes she faces a big task to help make the city safer.

“It’s not an easy task,” she said. “I want to amplify the voices of residents, especially young people, to address what they feel is important and that’s how we can make a difference.”

A lifelong Milwaukee native, Whitaker was raised by her mother and became a teenage mother. Despite the challenges of starting motherhood at an early age, she said she wasn’t going to let her life circumstances dictate her opportunities.

She graduated from Marquette University in 2001 with a Bachelor of Arts in Human Resource Management, then earned a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix, a Juris Doctorate from Concord Law School, and a Certificate of nonprofit management of Alverno College.

Prior to joining Safe & Sound, she held the position of Human Resources Manager for St. Charles Youth and Family Servicesand she was the president of the social action of the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. Milwaukee Chapter. Whitaker is the author of three books, including “A Sunday Kind of Love” and, most recently, “I hope this blesses someone.” She is also co-founder of BlankSpaceMKE, the collaborative artist behind Milwaukee Black Restaurant Week.

Swan-Zawadi Symphony, co-founder of BlankSpaceMKE, said Whitaker’s extensive human resources experience will stand him in good stead in his new role.

“She understands the human side and the business side, and she’s able to build bridges between them, and I think that’s important,” she said.

Swan-Zawadi is Executive Director of Arts @ Large, an organization that works for equitable access to education including the arts. She said Whitaker’s dedication to the city and its people is an added bonus.

“She loves this city and is great at being able to pour out on people so they feel seen, validated and respected,” she said.

Sodi Nichols, vice president of national strategic markets for US Bank and chairman of the board of Safe & Sound, agrees.

“She has always stood up for the community and helped raise her voice and bridge the gap between police and community through events that bring people together,” Nichols said. “She now has the space to go even further with her vision.”

Whitaker says one of Safe & Sound’s main goals is to improve relationships between old and young people. She said young people are being unfairly blamed for many of the city’s problems when they are actually a vital part of the solution.

“We need to make space to hear what they need to feel safe,” she said. “We need to talk to each other and not to each other and have conversations about what works and what doesn’t.”

She also wants to help foster an environment where youth and law enforcement trust and work with each other.

“It’s a two-way street, and it starts with seeing each other as people,” she said. “Things don’t change overnight, but when we work together, we all benefit.”

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