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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, February 03, 2023

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes spoke to a crowd of UW-Madison community members to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. 

Barnes leads campus MLK celebration

Several hundred community members gathered at Union South Tuesday to reflect on the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., and look at his influence on the future.

Attendees shared lunch and heard from a number of speakers, with Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes delivering the keynote address.

In November, Mandela Barnes was elected the first black lieutenant governor in state history. 

Barnes, named after the South African President Nelson Mandela, is an advocate for social justice. He has been involved with numerous community organizations and was chairman of the Black and Latino Caucus during his tenure in the state legislature.  

Barnes spoke about the legacy of civil rights in Wisconsin, as well as the current shortcomings and injustices facing Wisconsin’s minority communities. 

“We have a rich, progressive tradition in the state of Wisconsin,” Barnes said, “Now is the moment for us to get back to those roots.”

Barnes comes into office during a time of historic challenges facing the black community in Wisconsin.Recent studies rank Wisconsin as the most segregated state in America and among the worst states in racial disparity.

“So many people have never been worse off,” Barnes said.

He argued a progressive agenda is needed to combat inequalities currently facing the state, calling for more education funding and condemning the status-quo of Wisconsin prisons.

He continued to explain how pollution disproportionately affects marginalized communities and endorsed a “Green New Deal,” an environmental stimulus package recently popularized by freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  

“The environmental justice movement is our civil rights movement,” Barnes said.  

In his speech, Barnes also commented on the recent controversy surrounding a group of Kentucky high school students wearing Make America Great Again hats who appeared to taunt a Native American man Nathan Phillips.

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Though the teens deny this assertion, Barnes condemned the “mob of high school students wearing red hats,” and repeatedly declared: “Nathan Phillips is an American Hero.”

Doctoral student and graduate intern for the Black Cultural Center Greg Wilson, who chaperoned the event, explained the relevance of MLK Day.

“We think of the state of Wisconsin, particularly Madison, as a liberal bastion … but that mantra masks a lot of the other social inequalities that face people on the margins,” Wilson said.

Wilson hopes the event will be a “springboard” to additional conversations.

“Events like this call attention to disparities and injustice in a state and campus that have struggled with diversity and inclusion issues,” Wilson said. 

Barnes expressed confidence in young people’s political activity and the most diverse congress in U.S. history. He advised to remain active, and warned against losing momentum. 

“We must resolve to be involved,” Barnes said. “Not a day off.”

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