Legislative Black Caucus kicks off Black History Month

Wisconsin’s Legislative Black Caucus is celebrating Black History Month with a host of events aimed at educating people about and reflecting on the past accomplishments of Black people, while also uplifting Black Wisconsinites’ voices and current needs. 

The caucus started the month-long celebration Wednesday with a morning press conference, which included the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and a libation ceremony, which is a ritual asking one’s ancestors to join a gathering. 

“We are thrilled to kick off Black History Month in the state of Wisconsin with you all,” Rep. Dora Drake (D-Milwaukee) said at the Wednesday press conference. “Black history is American history every single day.”

The caucus held an afternoon viewing of “Vel Phillips: Dream Big Dreams,” following the morning event. 

The documentary details the life of Phillips, who served as Wisconsin’s first Black judge, and as the first Black statewide elected official. She served as secretary of state from 1979 to 1983. Phillips was also an activist who advocated fair and affordable housing in Milwaukee. 

“The legacy of the work that she [Phillips] did has been astronomical and has been long lasting on so many people’s lives,” Rep. Darrin Madison Jr. (D-Milwaukee) told the group of about 20 after the conclusion of the documentary. “As we think about the future of the state and more particularly what Black folks and Black young people can do, this documentary, in particular, reminded me of the fact that it’s always the right time to do the right thing.”

Rep. Kalan Haywood (D-Milwaukee) noted that the challenges that people are fighting now are virtually the same ones Phillips was confronting.

“It’s morphed. We’re now fighting against being mapped out in redistricting. We’re now fighting against folks trying to ban teaching about Black history in schools,” Haywood said. “It’s a new fight, but it’s the same fight of making sure we’re fighting for equality and equity.”

Lawmakers emphasized that this month is a time to ensure the accurate preservation of the legacies of Black activists, lawmakers, leaders and others, especially when it comes to how these stories are used in political debates. 

“Folks love to distort the history and the legacy of the work that our ancestors have done — from Martin Luther King to Vel Phillips —  to actually push policies that are harmful to Black communities. It’s important that throughout this month that we uplift and share the narratives and the true intentions of the work as we begin to walk forward and carry it for the future,” Madison Jr. said. 

Drake said it’s important for Black people to tell their own stories to provide people with energy as they continue to work towards their goals. Lawmakers said they hope that this month will serve to uplift issues that will be topics of debate in the coming legislative session. 

“It’s really easy to say, ‘Oh, we’re fighting for these issues,’ whether it is housing, justice, economic justice, criminal justice, safety. And people can get tired of fighting because they don’t see things happening,” Drake said. “When they get a chance to meet with us, do the work that we’re doing and then be invited to be part of that, that not only helps build coalitions for advocacy but also keeps them around when it comes to fighting for our issues.”

Wednesday is just the beginning of the caucus’ Black History Month events. Each week caucus members will host events focused on a different issue area including nonprofit and small businesses, health, education and criminal justice. Some events include virtual forums focused on African American physical and mental health, a K-12 education resource fair and a panel discussion about environmental justice in Black communities.

Haywood said he also hopes that the planned events will help to bring people into the Capitol who aren’t always heard from to discuss their priorities. The caucus plans to close the month with a day of lobbying on Feb. 28, which will specifically focus on issues disproportionately affecting Black communities and bringing Black people into the state Capitol to have their voices heard by lawmakers.

“We wrap it up with lobby day, which will get folks here to actually lobby on those issues we talked about or other issues,” Haywood said. Black people, he said, aren’t always very visible in Wisconsin’s Capitol, and the lobby day will be an opportunity to work on that. He said people will be able to have their frustrations heard that day while learning about the tools and information they need to be advocates.



originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F02%2F02%2Flegislative-black-caucus-kicks-off-black-history-month-2%2F by Baylor Spears

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