Fifteen years ago, Dannie Evans didn’t feel empowered as an African American man working in Rock County as a probation officer.
“Fifteen years ago, when you were in a meeting, you knew you were the African American. You didn’t feel that your voice was heard. You didn’t feel that you had equity,” Evans said.
“I felt that there was a need as an African American to stick around, to pave the way. Because if everybody left, change would never happen.”
Today, Evans works as a county diversion supervisor trying to keep kids out of juvenile detention. And he’s one of the biggest advocates for recruiting more people of color and promoting inclusivity within the county workforce.
Across Rock County, public and private sector organizations are making efforts to diversify their staffs to better reflect a changing population. Leaders believe such actions will foster community trust and improve the services they provide.
Demographic data shows the area is slowly becoming more diverse. Rock County was 89.2% white, according to the 2000 census; that number fell to 83.3% white in 2017 estimates.
Janesville had similar changes, going from 93.9% white in the 2000 census to an estimated 89% white in 2017. Beloit, long more diverse than the rest of the county, went from 71.9% white in 2000 to an estimated 61.3% white in 2017.
The Latino population has largely driven the local shift, more than doubling in Janesville, Beloit and Rock County since 2000.
In response, Rock County government has created multiple committees dedicated to diversity and inclusion. The committees ensure employees of all races are involved in major policy decisions, Evans said.
“The more people you can bring together, the better we can be as a whole,” he said. “If I have everyone on my team that looks like me, talks like me, has only my background, then I’m leaving out a lot of expertise that I’m not allowing to come to the table.”
Diversity can cover many categories, including gender, religion and sexual orientation. This story will focus on race and ethnicity.
Conversations about race in the workplace can leave people feeling defensive because they fear being replaced. But diversity programs aim to “supplement, not supplant,” said Dorothy Harrell, Beloit NAACP president.
Whether at work or within a friend group, people tend to surround themselves with those who are similar. It takes effort to overcome that tendency and to include others of different backgrounds, she said.
More employees of color means an organization is more attuned to the needs of different communities. People might be more likely to frequent a business if those behind the counter look like them, Harrell said.
Even though Rock County’s demographics are shifting, the area is still overwhelmingly white. That can make recruitment more difficult.
YWCA Rock County Executive Director Angela Moore said businesses need to have a rigorous recruiting strategy. Advertise in outlets that cater to audiences of color. Visit ethnic gatherings such as Juneteenth or a Cinco de Mayo celebration, she advises.
Those actions might not directly lead to a new hire, but they at least increase visibility.
“If you’re trying to connect with people, you have to go where they are. That’s just basic,” Moore said. “You can’t stay in your office and say, ‘But they didn’t apply.’”
Recruitment is usually the easy part. Retention is more difficult, Moore said.
Retaining employees of color means building an office climate that values everyone’s ideas. A welcoming environment can put people at ease and increase productivity, she said.
Not every organization takes those steps. A company might feel it is sufficient to hire a few people of color for entry-level positions with little opportunity for advancement.
Janesville resident Santo Carfora runs a business called S&J Consulting that provides diversity and inclusion training for companies, schools and municipalities.
The trainings can be contentious, even among those who voluntarily attend. Comments that question the purpose of diversity and inclusion show there is plenty of work left, he said.
Carfora tries to feature trainers of color such as Billy Bob Grahn, who is Ojibwe.
Grahn said discussions years ago about race helped him dispel what teachers taught him as a child: stay silent about your heritage. Recently, two women of color cried at one of his trainings, showing how cathartic those talks can be, he said.
Carfora said many organizations contact him on a reactive basis—people of color are leaving or there was a racist incident, for example. But some places are now approaching him proactively.
Other organizations have taken their own proactive approaches for years.
Though there are few officers of color within the Janesville Police Department, Chief Dave Moore has worked for the past decade to build a culturally competent workplace.
He helped start African American and Latino advisory committees. All employees, from chief to clerk, receive implicit bias and other trainings to create systemic change, he said.
Janesville has three Latino officers and one Native American officer among its 105-person force. It hired its first black officer a few years ago, but that person is no longer with the department.
There are two black students in the department’s Explorer program, which gives young people an introduction to police work, Dave Moore said.
Building an inclusive department comes first. He is hopeful diverse hires will follow.
“There’s this belief out there that if an organization mirrors the population that it serves, then all of a sudden you’re culturally competent,” Dave Moore said. “That doesn’t guarantee a thing. I believe it is the values of the organization and the cultural competence of the organization which will result in the outcome that the community wants.”
Dave Moore won the YWCA’s 2019 Racial Justice Award for the department’s work. The YWCA also distributes awards for diversity in local workplaces, which most recently went to Agrace Hospice and Palliative Care in 2018.
The company has multiple scholarship programs for those looking to start or advance their nursing careers. The programs focus on people of color, said former Diversity Manager Brenda Gonzalez, who left Agrace this month after four years.
Agrace recently started internship programs that cater to UW-Madison students of color. It also has developed partnerships with local Hmong and Ho-Chunk leaders, among others, she said.
Gonzalez said she always felt valued and welcomed as a Latina woman during her time at Agrace.
Another Latina woman has led diversity and inclusion efforts for almost 20 years at Blackhawk Bank, which won the YWCA’s 2017 award for workplace diversity. Francisca Reyna, vice president of business development and education, said much of the bank’s cultural competence efforts are aimed at building client trust.
There are cultural differences between ethnic groups when it comes to banking. Some don’t trust banks. Others bring the entire family to consult about major financial decisions, Reyna said.
It’s imperative Blackhawk employees understand those differences, she said.
Diversity and inclusion is hard work, but it pays off. When stateline-area companies hire executives from other countries, they often recommend the new hires bank with Blackhawk, she said.
“Recruiters have picked up on the fact that we’re really good with diversity. Why else are we getting these referrals?” Reyna said. “We’re kind of like a gatekeeper when people come in.”
Reyna said change at Blackhawk didn’t happen overnight. She received some pushback when she was hired before the company culture evolved.
Every organization is at a different stage of such evolution.
The city of Janesville has made incremental gains with hiring more people of color. The city workforce went from 2.6% employees of color in 2016 to 2.9% in 2019.
Human Resources Director Sue Musick said the city values having diverse perspectives within its government, but with low unemployment, it can be difficult to find qualified applicants.
New city workers are required to pass an online diversity and inclusion quiz before they complete their hiring paperwork. Returning city workers receive cultural competence training each year on multiple topics, including diversity, she said.
If employees cannot attend a training, they are supposed to watch a recording of it online. There is no check to know whether a worker watched the video because completion is on the “honor system,” Musick said.
The city declined to connect The Gazette to a city employee of color.
At the Janesville School District, teachers of color have decreased from 2.1% to 1.6% since 2016. Meanwhile, students of color now comprise 28% of enrollment, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.
Former state Sen. Tim Cullen started a multicultural teacher scholarship program in 2008 to recruit more teachers of color to the district. The scholarship helps cover college tuition for a Janesville high school graduate or resident of color.
Those who complete the program, if hired by Janesville, must remain in the district for at least three years.
Daniel Jackson, who identifies as a Black American, and Nikki Tourdot, who is biracial, were two early recipients of the scholarship and remain in the district. Both grew up in Janesville and have no plans to leave.
Tourdot has advocated for ways to recruit teachers of color beyond the scholarship program. Some of her suggestions include partnerships with area colleges or giving incentives to teachers who refer applicants of color to job openings.
Tourdot, a second- and third-grade teacher at Harrison Elementary, wanted to be a teacher since she was little. But without teachers who look like them, some students might disregard teaching as a potential career path, she said.
Jackson, the dean at Marshall Middle School and a former Edison teacher, said it would have been nice to see more teachers of color when he was a student. It would have given him more role models.
He’s now on the board that awards the multicultural scholarship. Applicants who want to return to Janesville reflect a welcoming district atmosphere, he said.
“I think it’s pretty phenomenal. You’re building these students of color up that already had bases in this district,” Jackson said. “It’s cool to see the passion these younger kids are bringing to the program and their desire to come back and to help their community for the long haul.”
Assistant to the County Administrator Randy Terronez said the county has ramped up cultural competence initiatives. Those include multiple diversity committees, cultural heritage events and regular talks about race.
An inclusive environment creates positive word of mouth in the community, which is often the most powerful recruitment tool for any organization, he said.
Terronez, who is Latino, has spent 40 years working in county governments in Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin. He typically stayed at a job for six or seven years before leaving because he didn’t feel welcomed, he said.
He’s been at Rock County for nine years and said he feels valued. It’s a place where a former rank-and-file employee such as Evans can advance his career and help implement countywide initiatives. It’s a place where a Latina officer can earn a deputy of the year award.
Deputy Sheriff Maria Amador received the award in April. Amador is a native of Mexico who has worked at the county sheriff’s office for about 15 years.
Amador said she feels welcomed in Rock County. She’s an interpreter, Hispanic liaison officer and a regular presence at community events. People know her and feel comfortable approaching her.
Not everybody likes hearing about diversity and inclusion. That’s OK, she said. What’s important is that people at least try to accept other cultures amid a changing population.
“If we don’t become more inclusive and more understanding, I think it’s just going to be a failure on our part,” Amador said. “I think all employers need to take that into consideration because, you know, we’re here.
“Diversity is here. The melting pot is growing. It’s not going to go anywhere.”
Twenty-five years ago this month, James Arlen Wilson Jr. stood at the altar of Janesville’s Church of Christ.
He wore a white tuxedo with tails, a flashy red vest with matching bow tie and a nervous smile.
He paced toward the pews where family and friends gathered.
Then he straightened his shoulders and focused on the back of the church, where bridesmaids in shimmering red gowns fell in line.
On Aug. 6, 1994, the young man known affectionately as Jimmy waited for his bride.
Suddenly, his face beamed when he locked eyes with Kelly Flood as she glided down the aisle in a beaded wedding gown.
Some said this man with Down syndrome should not get married. They didn’t think he could have a serious relationship.
Together, he and Kelly knew they could prove them wrong.
A quarter century later, 49-year-old Jimmy and 48-year-old Kelly of Janesville are still beating the odds.
Last week, they quietly marked their silver wedding anniversary, a milestone many husbands and wives never reach.
“I knew we would make it,” Kelly said. “Because we had a lot of support from family and friends. And God was our main support.”
Earlier this month, Jimmy sat snuggled on the couch next to Kelly, the love of his life.
“That’s my wife,” he proclaimed. “I married her. She’s my love.”
He reached for Kelly and pulled her in for a gentle bear hug.
“She’s my woman,” Jimmy said. “I care for her.”
Kelly returned his soft gaze and smiled.
Over the years, Kelly has lived with depression, but Jimmy has been there for her.
“Just look at that face,” she said. “How can you look at Jimmy and have a bad day?”
She also has lived with weight gain.
“I weighed almost 500 pounds,” Kelly said. “I had to use a wheelchair because I could not walk. Jimmy was there to help me.”
Three years ago, she had gastric bypass surgery.
Today, because of weight loss, Kelly is proud that she and Jimmy can take walks from their downtown apartment around the block or to the Rock River, where they hold hands like newlyweds.
They also enjoy Special Olympics events where Jimmy competes, attending church and listening to Christian music.
One of Jimmy’s favorite songs is “In His Time,” which Kelly calls his “testimony song.”
The song’s lyrics affirm that God makes all things beautiful in time, a fitting theme for Jimmy’s life.
Since birth, Jimmy has overcome obstacle after obstacle to achieve things people said he could not, including marriage.
Jimmy and Kelly grew up in Janesville. She graduated from Craig High School, and Jimmy graduated from Parker High School.
They met at a church social, when both were teenagers. He bravely walked up to her and introduced himself.
They did things together in youth groups at church. They went to dances and movies, and they held hands.
“I thought she was just helping him,” said Jan, Jimmy’s mother.
As time went on, Kelly realized how much she enjoyed Jimmy’s company and the way he tenderly brushed her blond hair.
He also had a way of brightening even her darkest day.
Jimmy and Kelly knew each other eight years when Jimmy bought a ring, “a beautiful ring all on his own,” Jan remembered.
Kelly arrived at Jan’s home on a Friday night after working in her parents’ restaurant all day.
“I smelled like fish,” Kelly said.
But it made no difference to Jimmy.
He got down on one knee and, in a surprise move, asked Kelly to be his wife.
“I was so tired,” Kelly said. “But when Jimmy asked me, the tiredness was gone. My reply was an automatic ‘yes.’”
Jan witnessed the traditional proposal.
“I was in tears because no one has ever done that for me,” she said. “Jimmy has taught me how to love and how to see true love instead of fake love.”
Jan has been married three times.
When Jimmy and Kelly looked for a minister to perform their wedding, several turned them down.
Eventually, pastor Jeff Williams agreed to perform their ceremony. He is founder and senior pastor of Faith Community Church.
After speaking with the couple, Williams realized their love was sincere.
In retrospect, he said he could either see their limitations or see their potential.
Williams chose to see their potential.
“I saw a genuine love, a mutual commitment and a pattern of responsibility demonstrated over time,” he explained. “They deserved a chance. I’m not surprised by the longevity of their relationship because the authenticity was there from the beginning.”
Shirley Flood, Kelly’s mom, said she was “very surprised” when the couple decided to marry.
But now, she said: “I am proud of both of them. They are close, they are very close. Love, trust and honesty keep them together.”
On May 22, 1970, Jan gave birth to Jimmy, who was born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder caused by a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21.
Jan’s doctor told her the child would never be able to walk or talk. He suggested the baby be put in an institution.
Jan told him to get out of her room.
She resolved to give her son the chance he deserved.
“I took Jimmy to church, where I prayed for him in Jesus’ name,” Jan said.
When Jimmy was 3, the pastor walked up to him and put his hands on the child.
“God gave me a vision of this baby’s heart and told me to pray for him,” the pastor said.
The next morning, Jimmy went limp and turned blue.
Doctors told Jan that Jimmy needed immediate heart surgery.
“He had three valves and three holes that needed to be repaired,” Jan said. “They said he would live to be 9, and anything past that would be a miracle.”
Jan continued to take Jimmy to church, where the child learned to praise the Lord.
“He would run up front, and I would bring him back,” Jan recalled. “The pastor said leave him alone. Let him come up and worship God the way he wants.”
Today, when Jimmy attends church, mostly at Janesville’s House of God, he goes up front, raises his arms and prays.
“He has been that way his whole life,” Jan said.
Rachel Reit of the Down Syndrome Association of Wisconsin said more people with Down syndrome are getting married.
They are “living exceptional, integrated lives in the community,” she said.
The Wilsons have helped educate the community about “all the things that people with Down syndrome can accomplish,” Reit said. “Our friends with Down syndrome can get married; they can live in their own homes; they can hold meaningful jobs, and they can do so, so much more.
“Less than 40 years ago, the life expectancy for someone with Down syndrome was just 25 years old,” Reit said. “Imagine all of the expectations they exceeded 25 years ago when they got married!”
Jan sees her son as a pioneer for people with disabilities and an inspiration to everyone.
“He has touched so many,” she said.
Among them is Shanon Caballero of Janesville, who was a bridesmaid in his wedding.
“I never had any doubt they would make it,” she said. “There were some who frowned on his wedding. It made me want to stand by Jimmy and Kelly even more. I was honored to stand up for them.”
Jimmy and Kelly “showed us how to love unconditionally for better or for worse,” Caballero said.
Her mother and Jimmy’s mother were friends when she and Jimmy were children growing up.
“All I ever wanted for him was to find happiness,” Caballero said. “He is my inspiration to do what I am doing in my life.”
Caballero works for an agency that supports people with developmental disabilities. She wants Jimmy to be an inspiration to other parents and families.
“We thank God for each day that he gives us with Jimmy,” Caballero said. “When Jimmy’s around, there’s a little extra spunk in the air. He’s all about fun and surprises.”
Kelly has endured mean comments about her husband. She has let go of friends who were insensitive to Jimmy. She has listened to people say that her marriage will not last.
“But look at us now,” Kelly said. “You don’t find many couples who last as long as Jimmy and I have.”
Jimmy and Kelly do not know what the next chapter of their marriage will bring.
Kelly said Jimmy has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Many, but not all, people with Down syndrome develop Alzheimer’s disease when they get older. More than half have the disease in their 50s and 60s, according to the National Institute on Aging.
“It’s been rough,” Kelly said. “I have sat and cried and cried and cried. But at the end of the day, there’s nothing I can do. I know the hurt he is going through.”
Still, Kelly has no regrets about their marriage.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said. “It is until death do us part. We have our rough days. Then I take a deep breath and calm down. If people don’t understand my love for Jimmy, then they don’t understand true love.”
She paused, looked long at her husband and said:
“Jimmy is the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The FBI and the Justice Department’s inspector general’s office will investigate how Jeffrey Epstein died in an apparent suicide Saturday, while the probe into sexual abuse allegations against the well-connected financier remains ongoing, officials said.
Epstein, accused of orchestrating a sex-trafficking ring and sexually abusing dozens of underage girls, had been taken off suicide watch before he killed himself in a New York jail, a person familiar with the matter said.
Attorney General William Barr, in announcing the investigation, said he was “appalled” to learn of Epstein’s death while in federal custody.
“Mr. Epstein’s death raises serious questions that must be answered,” Barr said in a statement.
Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell Saturday morning at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Fire officials received a call at 6:39 a.m. Saturday that Epstein was in cardiac arrest, and he was pronounced dead at New York Presbyterian-Lower Manhattan Hospital.
Epstein, 66, had been denied bail and faced up to 45 years behind bars on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges unsealed last month. He had pleaded not guilty and was awaiting trial.
The federal investigation into the allegations remains steadfast, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said. He noted in a statement Saturday that the indictment against Epstein includes a conspiracy charge, suggesting others could face charges in the case.
Epstein had been placed on suicide watch and given daily psychiatric evaluations after an incident a little over two weeks ago in which he was found with bruising on his neck, according to the person familiar with the matter who wasn’t authorized to discuss it publicly. It hasn’t been confirmed whether the injury was self-inflicted or the result of an assault.
Epstein was taken off suicide watch at the end of July, the person said.
The Bureau of Prisons confirmed that he had been housed in the jail’s Special Housing Unit, a heavily secured part of the facility that separates high-profile inmates from the general population. Until recently, the same unit had been home to the Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who is now serving a life sentence at the so-called Supermax prison in Colorado.
Epstein’s death raises questions about how the Bureau of Prisons ensures the welfare of such high-profile inmates. In October, Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was killed in a federal prison in West Virginia where had just been transferred.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote Saturday in a scathing letter to Barr that “heads must roll” after the incident.
“Every single person in the Justice Department—from your Main Justice headquarters staff all the way to the night-shift jailer—knew that this man was a suicide risk, and that his dark secrets couldn’t be allowed to die with him,” Sasse wrote.
Cameron Lindsay, a former warden who ran three federal lockups, said the death represents “an unfortunate and shocking failure, if proven to be a suicide.”
“Unequivocally, he should have been on active suicide watch and therefore under direct and constant supervision,” Lindsay said.
Epstein’s removal from suicide watch would have been approved by both the warden of the jail and the facility’s chief psychologist, said Jack Donson, a former prison official who worked for the Bureau of Prisons for more than two decades.
An attorney for Jeffrey Epstein, Marc Fernich, said in a statement that jailers at the Metropolitan Correctional Center failed to protect Epstein and to prevent the “calamity” of his death.
Fernich also said that reporters, plaintiffs’ lawyers and court officials “should be ashamed of their behavior” following Epstein’s indictment. He said Epstein had “long since paid his debt to society” for his crimes.
Epstein’s arrest last month launched separate investigations into how authorities handled his case initially when similar charges were first brought against him in Florida more than a decade ago. U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta resigned last month after coming under fire for overseeing that deal when he was U.S. attorney in Miami.
On Friday, more than 2,000 pages of documents were released related to a since-settled lawsuit against Epstein’s ex-girlfriend by Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s accusers. The records contain graphic allegations against Epstein, as well as the transcript of a 2016 deposition of Epstein in which he repeatedly refused to answer questions to avoid incriminating himself.
Sigrid McCawley, Giuffre’s attorney, said Epstein’s suicide less than 24 hours after the documents were unsealed “is no coincidence.” McCawley urged authorities to continue their investigation, focusing on Epstein associates who she said “participated and facilitated Epstein’s horrifying sex trafficking scheme.”
Other accusers and their lawyers reacted to the news with frustration that the financier won’t have to face them in court.
“We have to live with the scars of his actions for the rest of our lives, while he will never face the consequences of the crimes he committed the pain and trauma he caused so many people,” accuser Jennifer Araoz said in a statement.
Brad Edwards, a Florida lawyer for nearly two dozen other accusers, said that “this is not the ending anyone was looking for.”
“The victims deserved to see Epstein held accountable, and he owed it to everyone he hurt to accept responsibility for all of the pain he caused,” Edwards said in a statement.
Epstein’s arrest drew national attention, particularly focusing on a deal that allowed Epstein to plead guilty in 2008 to soliciting a minor for prostitution in Florida and avoid more serious federal charges.
Federal prosecutors in New York reopened the probe after investigative reporting by The Miami Herald stirred outrage over that plea bargain.
His lawyers maintained that the new charges in New York were covered by the 2008 plea deal and that Epstein hadn’t had any illicit contact with underage girls since serving his 13-month sentence in Florida.
Before his legal troubles, Epstein led a life of extraordinary luxury that drew powerful people into his orbit.
He socialized with princes and presidents and lived on a 100-acre private Caribbean island and one of the biggest mansions in New York.
Wayne G. Benstead
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Floyd Warner Grothman
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Scott Perry Jordan
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Randy Dale Nelson
Julie Kaye Plesa
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Curtis Primus Sr.
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