To achieve racial and health equity, Milwaukee County is Rising to the Moment to center Black and Brown lives, contributions and experiences, this month and beyond. We are excited to share our collaborative learning journey this month to highlight Black leaders, past and present, in our 19 municipalities. This week we highlight Black leaders in health and human services.
Health & Human Services
Dr. William Finlayson
Dr. William Edward Finlayson was born Sept. 1, 1924 in Manatee, Florida. Finlayson served as a 1st Lieutenant in the US Army from 1943 through 1946 and served in the Army Reserves from 1946 to 1953. He received his bachelor's degree from Morehouse College in 1948 and a master's degree from Meharry Medical College in 1953. Finlayson completed his residency at the University of Minnesota in 1958.
Finlayson established his own OB/GYN private practice in Milwaukee in 1958. He continued to practice medicine for nearly the next 40 years. Finlayson also held two fellowships: one at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist in 1963 and the other at the American College of Surgeons in 1964. He taught at the Medical College of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin Medical School.
In 1971, Finlayson founded the first black-owned bank in Milwaukee, North Milwaukee State Bank, adding stature and viability to underserved communities by offering full-service banking to individuals and businesses.
Dr. Lester Carter
An Omaha native, Dr. Carter has accumulated recognition as one of the first Black pharmacists in the state of Nebraska. A respected practitioner with more than 40 years of expertise to his credit, he relocated to Milwaukee in 1968. He subsequently founded Carter Drug Store.
Dr. Carter enlisted in the United States Navy and served as a medic during the Korean War. Dr. Carter graduated from Creighton University in 1958 with a bachelor's degree in pharmacy. In addition to traditional pharmaceutical practices, he is also frequently consulted for his proficiency in the healing properties of herbal remedies.
In 2015, the Medical College of Wisconsin bestowed upon Pharmacist Carter an honorary doctorate. Likewise, in 2018 the city of Milwaukee named a street outside the pharmacy in his honor. He is the author of "Healing the Human Body with God's Remedies," a text that advises on the benefits of naturalistic medicine. Dr. Carter plans to continue ministering to his clientele in the foreseeable future.
Dr. John W. Maxwell, Sr.
A notable event in the history of Saint Anthony Hospital occurred in 1954 when Dr. John W. Maxwell, Sr. was elected Chief of Staff by his fellow physicians. At the time, he was one of two black doctors on Saint Anthony’s staff of 40 physicians that served a patient population, which was 30% black. Dr. Maxwell was the first African-American chief of staff in any Wisconsin hospital. A graduate of Meharry Medical College, Dr. Maxwell came to Milwaukee to practice medicine at Saint Anthony Hospital in 1946. In 1961, he was named General Practitioner of the Year by the National Medical Association.
St. Anthony’s is now home to the Medical Examiner’s office for Milwaukee County.
Willie Johnson, Jr.
Willie Johnson, Jr. was first elected 13th District Supervisor in 2000 and is serving his sixth term on the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.
A resident of Milwaukee since childhood, he graduated valedictorian of his class at Lincoln High School, earned a bachelor's degree in political science with a concentration of courses in economics from Northwestern University, has been conferred a master's degree and a doctorate of philosophy in humanities degree from the Wisconsin University of Theology, and has completed courses for the master's degree of public administration program at the UM-Milwaukee. Prior to his election, Supervisor Johnson worked for the Milwaukee County Department of Human Services Financial Assistance and Child Welfare divisions. Read more.
Wanda J. Montgomery
Brown Deer Village President
Wanda J. Montgomery has dedicated her life to the pursuit of excellence in the fields of child education, child welfare and community engagement. She earned a master's degree in educational policy and leadership from Marquette University and a bachelor's degree in community education from UW-Milwaukee.
In April 2018, Wanda was elected as a Village of Brown Deer trustee. In 2019, Wanda was elected to her current role as village president.
Currently, the Village of Brown Deer is the only African-American led community in the state of Wisconsin and has the only majority minority board of trustees in any municipality.
In June 2020, she published her memoir “Influence | It’s More Than A Position.” She also is the founder of “Black Mama’s Rock.”
She lives by a quote from Maya Angelo, “When you learn, teach… when you get, give.”
Shorewood Village Board
Wesley Warren who is of Italian American and African American heritage, was appointed to the Shorewood Village Board in 2018 and elected to a full term in 2019. He is the first African American to serve in that role.
Warren attended the Shorewood School District from the age of 6 through the now-defunct Chapter 220 program. State lawmakers created Chapter 220 in 1975, just before a federal judge found that the Milwaukee School District were intentionally segregating schools. Chapter 220 provided busing for Black city students to attend suburban schools and suburban students to attend city specialty schools like language immersion programs or Milwaukee High School of the Arts. The program was intended to desegregate city and suburban schools but was undercut by other state programs in the late 1990s.
While in high school, Warren’s family relocated from the north side of Milwaukee to Shorewood. After graduating high school, Warren studied political science at Yale University and interned for former President Bill Clinton. Warren went onto earn a law degree from Harvard Law School.
He returned to Milwaukee, working for Michael Best & Friedrich and now Northwestern Mutual, for the past 15 years. Warren is married to April Toy, also an attorney. Warren hopes that Shorewood continues to focus on fostering inclusivity for all of its residents. Warren’s current term expires in 2022.
Public Safety & Law
Earnell R. Lucas
Sheriff Earnell R. Lucas is the 65th Sheriff of Milwaukee County, elected on Nov. 6, 2018, with the goal of restoring honor, integrity and trust in the Sheriff’s Office by treating everyone with dignity and respect. Sheriff Lucas commands a staff that is responsible for safety and security at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport, the Milwaukee County Circuit Courts, the Milwaukee County Jail and the Milwaukee County parks and freeway systems.
Sheriff Lucas was born in Milwaukee’s Hillside Terrace housing project and raised by his grandmother, who moved from Alabama to raise him and two brothers upon the death of their mother. He attended Milwaukee Public Schools, graduating from Rufus King High School. He has a bachelor’s degree cum laude in criminology and law studies from Marquette University.
Sheriff Lucas chose a career in law enforcement at an early age after an encounter with a police officer, which showed him the awesome authority that officers hold. He was appointed a police aide with the Milwaukee Police Department in October 1976. In a career spanning over 25 years, he served as the department's public information officer and as a district commander. He retired at the rank of captain. Sheriff Lucas still bears the scars of sustaining a shotgun blast to the right side of his face as a young officer. Read more.
1st African American Female Deputy Chief
Deputy Chief Purifoy entered the Fire Academy in April 2003, graduated in August 2003, and was then assigned to Engine 2 and graduated paramedic school. She was assigned to MED 5 in June 2008, promoted to lieutenant in December 2011, was appointed as the director of the Survive Alive House in December 2013, was promoted to fire captain in January 2017, was appointed MFD Recruiting Director in December 2018 and was promoted to Battalion Chief in May 2019. Additionally, she has been an active member of the MFD’s Strategic Planning Committee.
A registered Paramedic since 2012, Deputy Chief Purifoy is perfectly suited to lead the department’s Emergency Medical Services Division – a posting that carries tremendous responsibility.
Deputy Chief Purifoy has shown a commitment to recruiting and mentoring young firefighters, and supporting them as they progress through their careers. She also leads by example, showing other women of color in our city that they too can join the MFD and succeed!
Deputy Chief - Bureau of Fire Prevention & Urban Affairs
Chief Michael Wright was born and raised on Milwaukee’s northside Harambee Neighborhood. He has served on the West Allis Fire Department for over a decade as a firefighter, fire inspector, fire Investigator, paramedic and currently deputy chief of fire prevention and urban affairs. Also, Chief Wright has served as an adjunct instructor for Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).
Chief Wright has a strong educational background, which includes a master’s degree in human resources (2021), bachelor’s degree in business management, associate’s degree in management, and is a graduate of Dillard University’s Carl Holmes Executive Development Institute program. Additionally, Chief Wright has achieved the Chief Fire Officer designation from the Center of Public Service Excellence.
Chief Wright strongly believes in being active in community risk reduction efforts, promoting departmental diversity, and partnering with local agencies to ensure public safety.