The Black Legislative Action Coalition of Wisconsin (BLAC-WI) hosted the 2023 Black Advocacy Day at the Wisconsin State Capitol on Tuesday in celebration of Black History Month.
More than 200 participants from across the state gathered to learn how to advocate on issues impacting their community from organization leaders and legislators.
“We are part of a historical day,” Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) said to the participants. “We have never had 200 people come and advocate in this building in my entire career here.”
Taylor, the second Black woman ever to serve in the state senate, has represented the 4th Senate District since 2004.
Brenda Jackson, a small business owner from Milwaukee, said she came to the event to increase her awareness of governmental affairs.
“I joined to see how the government operates and learn what services they offer for the Black community in Milwaukee,” Jackson said. “I also came to the Capitol to talk to our Black advocates and representatives.”
BLAC-WI is a newly formed group of Black-led organizations that advocates for the needs of the Black community in Wisconsin, according to the Black Advocacy Day event website. The organizations include Wisconsin Voices, the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Milwaukee Urban League.
Tuesday’s event offered panel discussions where participants explored topics regarding criminal justice, education, economic development, lead water safety issues, police reform and voter protection. Participants also had an opportunity to attend an advocacy training workshop.
Jason Fields, a former Democratic member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, spoke to small business owners in the audience. He encouraged them to interact with elected officials and governmental entities to reach their long-term goals and benefit their financial interests as business owners, mentioning Gov. Tony Evers’ 2023-25 executive budget as a potential opportunity.
“Every elected official on every level, you need to know who they are, and they need to know you,” Fields said.
At the advocacy training workshop, participants learned about lobbying from leaders from Wisconsin Voices, a nonpartisan organization that promotes civic engagement and participation.
“What people who advocate for better policy in Wisconsin could do a better job of is to get people to hear [at the capitol],” Jamie Lynn Crofts, the policy director at Wisconsin Voices said. “When there is no one here to oppose, it’s so much easier for legislators to pass laws that are unfair.”
Lotoya White, the partnership and organizing director at Wisconsin Voices, instructed participants to share personal stories when talking about issues with legislators.
“Sharing your story to show why you are so adamant about this issue helps change somebody else’s life,” White said.
BLAC-WI invited Dr. Hasan Jeffries, an associate professor of history at the Ohio State University, as the event’s keynote speaker. During his speech, Jeffries told participants to use their voices and fight against laws he said were rooted in racism and inequality.
“Be advocates and raise your voice, not just for yourself but for the members of your community,” Jeffries said. “Hold the people working at places like the Capitol accountable.”
Participants visited their elected officials after workshops and discussions. The Black Advocacy Day event was followed by a reception hosted by Gov. Tony Evers at the Governor’s Mansion.