Black legislators to host Black History Month events at state Capitol, Milwaukee

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus are hosting a series of events this month in honor of Black History Month, focusing on education, health, environmental justice and business concerns among Wisconsin’s Black community.

The series kicked off Wednesday with a screening at the state Capitol of the documentary Vel Phillips: Dream Big Dreams, which focuses on the first Black candidate to hold statewide office in Wisconsin.

“February allows us the chance to celebrate our history in this great state, and I want to thank everyone for all their hard work to put the events this month together,” said Rep. Dora Drake, D-Milwaukee, who chairs the nine-member caucus. “I encourage people to make time and attend our events throughout the month.”

Those include a minority-owned business conversation Friday in Milwaukee, and an online forum focusing on Black health and mental health will take place at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and Feb. 9. Putting a spotlight on health disparities between Wisconsin’s white and Black populations, a 2016 UW-Madison Population Health Institute report said the state was “failing in its efforts to improve health-related quality of life for working-age adults who are African American.”

On Feb. 14, there will be a blood drive at Milwaukee’s Vincent High School. On the 15th, there will be a lunch and lecture at the Capitol with Marquette University associate English professor Cedric Burrows, who teaches courses in Black rhetoric and social movements.

A Feb. 16 fair at the Wisconsin African American Women’s Center in Milwaukee will focus on K-12 education resources, while other events between Feb. 20 and 24 will focus on criminal and environmental justice.

There will be a “Day of Empathy” from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Capitol. On Feb. 23, there will be a panel on Wisconsin environmental justice in Black communities at the Urban Ecology Center at Riverside Park, beginning at 5 p.m.

An event highlighting the disparate impacts of climate change will be hosted from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Capitol.

The events will conclude with a Black lobbying event between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Feb. 28 at the Capitol.

7 honored

Members of the caucus also introduced on Wednesday a resolution proclaiming February 2023 as Black History Month and honoring seven people who “have made measurable differences in their respective industries”:

Marcia Anderson, a retired major general with the U.S. Army Reserve.

Elisterine Clayton, a 100-year-old Milwaukee resident who, along with her husband, Powell, played a role in building the city’s historic Halyard Park community, home to one of the city’s oldest Black middle-class neighborhoods.

Paul Higginbotham, the first Black judge to serve on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

Torre Johnson Sr., the founder of X-Men United, a Milwaukee-based youth development basketball nonprofit.

Alonzo Robinson Jr., the state’s first Black registered architect and Milwaukee’s first Black registered municipal architect.

Dr. William Rogers, a historian and educator who helped form the Black Radio Network.

Gab Taylor, co-founder of Program the Parks and a member of Standing up for Racial Justice.

The topic of a Black History Month resolution has been a divisive one at the Capitol in recent years. The Republican-led Legislature declined to pass a resolution honoring Black History Month in 2021, but did pass a measure honoring the late conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, whose top-rated show was condemned by Democrats as misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic and racist.

State Journal reporter Mitchell Schmidt contributed to this report.

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