Defying the Status Quo

As a lifelong Milwaukee resident, Daniela Orozco ’15 understands the way that racial stereotypes manifest and flourish in a city that has been declared the most segregated in the United States.

That doesn’t mean she accepts the status quo.

“Even as a child, I remember hearing that Mexican people didn’t like Puerto Rican people and white people didn’t like Black people. But I didn’t understand why,” she says. “It was one of the things I was passionate about breaking. I wanted to be friends with people regardless of what they looked like or where they lived.”

Orozco set out to defy the status quo. For her work promoting equality, unity and inclusion in Milwaukee, she was honored as an NBA Voices champion. Specifically, the NBA cited how she founded and led Face to Face workshops that facilitated discussion across racial and geographic lines.

“At the beginning of the workshop, we talk about what we call the elephant in the room. Both races will talk about the stereotypes. It gets uncomfortable,” she says. “We don’t do any icebreakers because I want people to be uncomfortable. I encourage people to listen to listen, rather than listen to respond.”

Workshop participants learn the history of segregation in Milwaukee before searching for commonalities between the different groups in the room. Participants are asked to consider: What values and priorities do people share, and how can we unite around them?

“We are similar in many ways, even though we may look different and live in different parts of town,” she says.

Orozco’s journey into addressing racism began as an Alverno student when she had the opportunity to share and hear her peers’ experiences with race and racism. It was revelatory.

“People felt like a weight was lifted off their shoulders,” she says. “It was nice to be able to talk about our experiences and the elephant in the room.”

As she began her career, she wondered — why not facilitate such discussions throughout the city? Her work as a youth organizer at Safe & Sound, a Milwaukee nonprofit dedicated to building relationships between youth, law enforcement and their communities, gave her the opportunity to launch the Face to Face workshops. Nonprofits, schools and people around the city took part, as did NBA players and staff.

Along the way, Orozco, now the assistant dean of students and school culture at Carmen Schools of Science and Technology (south campus), encountered naysayers and rejection.

“A friend said it’s not going to work. I continued anyway. When people doubt me, that drives me to do better,” she says. “At the time I didn’t see it as courage, I just saw it as changing something I did not like to see in our city.”

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