Meet the 2023 Unity Award Winners: Tammy Rivera

At Southside Organizing Center, she works to ensure residents have a voice, vote and vehicle to enact positive change.


A veteran nonprofit executive, community activist and lifelong Milwaukeean, Tammy Rivera has served as executive director of the Southside Organizing Center since 2015. The organization is dedicated to the development and sustainability of the city’s near South Side neighborhoods, working to ensure residents have a voice, vote and vehicle to enact positive change on issues that matter to them. 

As a Latina on the South Side of Milwaukee, I’ve witnessed and experienced injustice play out both personally and in the community. Central to my response is my personal faith conviction that love is primarily an action, and that loving my neighbor includes addressing social justice. To truly serve my fellow neighbors, I need to center their dreams, needs and lived experiences. That’s what drives our mission at SOC today.

While many of us have good intentions, we are constantly making decisions from a place of privilege, ignorance and negligence. Social justice problem-solving needs to be focused on the systems level. We need to focus on and deeply understand what our neighbors are actually going through before we try to help them.


Nominations are open for the 2024 Unity Awards! 

Know an individual or group committed to bridging divides in our community? Nominate them for a Unity Award by Oct. 31.

I can plainly see our community’s needs. There’s an affordable housing crisis, an addiction crisis, a sex trafficking crisis, an economic crisis, a violence crisis and a criminal justice crisis. But I believe it’s disrespectful to speak out about what my neighbors need without consulting and centering them first. 

Attempts to solve social problems without a thorough understanding of and holistic approach to the ills that plague our systems are futile. You can’t make a plan to address the housing crisis without understanding Milwaukee’s history of redlining and examining the new or retooled systems you are trying to impact through a justice lens. How are the governance, resource allocation, distribution of power and decisions being handled? Who is benefiting most, financially or with influence?

Now, it’s a great honor to be able to serve the least loved and attended-to folks in our community – people of color, undocumented immigrants and the working poor. This year, we’re conducting surveys to reprioritize where we put our efforts in alignment with how our neighbors have reprioritized their lives post-pandemic. Our goal has always been to have authentic relationships with our neighbors; to listen, understand and honor our neighbors. To me, that’s what it means to love my neighbor. 

Tammy Rivera

A fresh perspective on … SOCIAL JUSTICE

Too many people think social justice means the possibility of opportunity and resources. Social justice is the certainty of equitable access to sufficient opportunities and resources – absent and corrective of historical privilege and oppression. The perception is that there are abundant jobs, housing and wealth to be obtained by everyone – this is America, after all. But
that’s never been true.