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We use direct actions to interrupt the status quo and bring awareness to key issues and different forms of state violence affecting the root causes of the plight of black and brown people around the world.,


We stand against the many forms of state violence: police killings, mass incarceration, poverty and others.  We stand for justice for Tony Robinson and ALL Black lives lost at the hands of the state. We stand for community and self determination. We will not stop until we are free.


YGB raising awareness and building community

Three Supreme Court Cases that Defined Racial Justice in U.S. History
01 May 2019

Three Supreme Court Cases that Defined Racial Justice in U.S. History

To truly understand the history of racism and Black history in the United States, it is vital that we understand how the Supreme Court has ruled on important racial matters, and how these rulings have set the stage for the issues we face today.


Although it is not nearly an all-encompassing list, the three important Supreme Court decisions below are some of the most vital rulings concerning Black Americans in United States history.


Scottsboro Boys

The Scottsboro Boys were a group of nine Black teenagers who were falsely accused of raping two white women in 1931. Despite committing no crimes, the boys spent years in Alabama prisons, eight were sentenced to death, and they were threatened with lynchings by angry mobs outside the jail.


After multiple trials, the case went to the Supreme Court. In Powell v. Alabama, the Court ruled that the defendants had been denied their right to due process under the 14th Amendment and remanded the case to lower courts.


However, prosecutors then put the case in front of a more sympathetic judge, and the boys were given death sentences again. In Norris v. Alabama, the Supreme Court again overturned the verdicts, ruling that a fair trial did not take place. This ruling was a huge victory for groups like the NAACP.


Read more by clicking here.



Loving v. Virginia

In Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court struck down state laws that banned interracial marriage, deciding that they were unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. The ruling allowed Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and black woman who were arrested by Virginia police for their marriage, to legally marry in Virginia. It also influenced Obergefell v. Hodges, the ruling that legalized gay marriage in the United States.


Read more by clicking here.



Brown v. Board of Education

This landmark Supreme Court decision in 1954 ruled that “separate-but-equal” segregated schools were not equal between whites and blacks, and therefore violated the 14th Amendment. In the ruling, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that “in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place,” largely because of the significantly higher levels of quality of white schools compared with Black schools. This case overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, which ruled that racially segregated public facilities were constitutional, so long as the quality was equal for all races.


Brown v. Board of Education fueled the Civil Rights Movement and has influenced Supreme Court rulings for decades.


Read more by clicking here.

From the YGB Black Curriculum: Evicted
01 May 2019

From the YGB Black Curriculum: Evicted

Support YGB when you purchase Evicted.


Evicted by Matthew Desmond outlines “poverty and profit in the American city,” detailing how economic exploitation and issues with affordable housing can enhance extreme poverty in the United States, especially in communities of color. In the book, Desmond follows the lives of eight families in low-income neighborhoods in Milwaukee as they face eviction and struggle to pay the rent that their landlords are demanding.


Support YGB when you purchase Evicted with the Amazon link below.


If you would like to see our entire list of book recommendations, please click here.


From the YGB Black Curriculum: Just Mercy
01 May 2019

From the YGB Black Curriculum: Just Mercy

Support YGB when you purchase Just Mercy.


Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is an account of Stevenson’s work as a young lawyer and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal firm that defends those who are most desperate in society - including people of color, the poor, women and children, and those who are wrongly condemned. The book follows the case of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to death for a murder he said he didn’t commit. Overall, the book sheds light on the politics and injustice of America’s criminal justice system and the coming of age of Stevenson as a lawyer and person.


Support YGB when you purchase Just Mercy with the Amazon link below.


If you would like to see our entire list of book recommendations, please click here.


From the YGB Black Curriculum: Between the World and Me
01 May 2019

From the YGB Black Curriculum: Between the World and Me

Support YGB when you purchase Between the World and Me.


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a letter to Coates’ teenage son describing the harsh realities of being Black in the United States. Drawing upon his childhood and the racism he experienced in school and day-to-day life, Coates explains that "racist violence that has been woven into American culture” and argues that white supremacy is important to fight against, but can never be fully erased from American life.


Support YGB when you purchase Between the World and Me with the Amazon link below.


If you would like to see our entire list of book recommendations, please click here.


From the YGB Black Curriculum: All About Love
01 May 2019

From the YGB Black Curriculum: All About Love

Support YGB when you purchase All About Love.


All About Love by bell hooks discusses love and romance in the context of gender and sexism in the United States. In the book, hooks argues that in modern society, men have been conditioned to resist love, while women have been conditioned to sometimes love too much - even when that love is not reciprocated. Themes of the book include respect, trust, care, self-love, and open and honest communication.


Support YGB when you purchase All About Love with the Amazon link below.


If you would like to see our entire list of book recommendations, please click here.



Brandi Grayson Response to Jen Cheatham’s Open Letter
03 Mar 2019

Brandi Grayson Response to Jen Cheatham’s Open Letter

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Phone: (608) 618-0942

What follows is an op-ed by Brandi Grayson, responding to Jen Cheatham’s open letter to the community more than a week after the incident at Whitehorse Middle School where an 11 year old black girl was physically attacked by a school administrator.

The superintendent of Madison Metropolitan School District, Jennifer Cheatham. wrote a letter to the Madison Community on 2/28/19, acknowledging the failure of MMSD to protect Black children. She acknowledged that MMSD should be held to a higher standard. She acknowledged that incidents are increasing with time. The problem with her letter is, and was, that she gaslit the hell out of us via wordsmithing.

Before I explain how she did it let me first define gaslighting and wordsmithing. Both are used in abusive relationships. Gaslighting is a term coined to describe a series of manipulative behavior resulting in emotional and mental abuse which causes the targeted individual(s) to begin questioning their feelings and emotions. One way Jennifer Cheatham did this is by downplaying incidents of racism and physical abuse. She often responds to concerns and demands from the Black community as overreactive, over-dramatized, or unnecessary, but never directly uses those words. That’s where wordsmithing comes in. Wordsmithing is defined as a person skillfully using words to convey a certain message or thought indirectly. It’s used by abusers to redirect, reframe, oppose, and downplay.

On 2/13/18, an eleven year old Black girl was brutalized at Whitehorse elementary school by an administrator. The school district didn’t respond to the incident until 9 days later. Jennifer Cheatham did not send out a letter to the community expressing her discontent following the incident, nor did she acknowledge the incident had occurred. An eleven year old Black girl was brutalized in front of her class. The principal for the day, Rob Mueller-Owens, 52, threw her to the ground, pulled her hair out, and then preceded to punch an 11 year old Black girl in the face.

What did the school district do by way of their superintendent? They denied that the brutal incident occurred. Denial is one of the first techniques used by an abuser. They simply deny that it ever occurred. Despite the evidence. Recall, gas-lighting makes the victim (overtime) doubt their own emotions and feelings, and because Jennifer Cheatham denied that the incident occurred by failing to acknowledge it publicly, she — as representative of MMSD — began gas-lighting the public. Because who would believe the incident was as bad as “they” described it when MMSD themselves didn’t report the incident to the public or Child Protective Services. By not reporting it, they indirectly denied its occurrence. By not reporting it, they upheld the idea that Black lives don’t matter. That Black children don’t matter. That Black children are not worthy of compassion, or even recognition, during and after a situation that Jennifer Cheatham later framed as horrific.

On 2/20/19 Madison365 released an article detailing the abuse suffered by an 11 year old at the hands of a MMSD teacher. In the article the author details how the events unfolded. You can read the details here. The day after the article was published by Madison365, Jennifer Cheatham/MMSD publicly acknowledges the incident. 9 days after the incident occurred.

Jennifer Cheatham begins the letter by describing the incident as a serious conflict. “The incident involved a staff person responding to a call for assistance in a classroom, which unfortunately resulted in a serious conflict between the staff person and a student”. This is the same incident we now know was violent, brutal, and downright criminal. Remember, gaslighting is psychological manipulation overtime. And recall, I defined her use of gas-lighting as wordsmithing. She first denied the incident occurred, and then she downplayed the incident, describing the brutalization of a Black baby’s body as a conflict. Recall, one of the strategies of gas-lighting is to downplay a situation that hurts someone, making them doubt their emotions, their perception, and their sanity. In a society rooted in white supremacy racism, this particular microaggression upholds narratives and ideologies that are rooted in the idea that Black bodies are NOT deserving of protection or recognition. This is the very definition of anti-Blackness, and because we’re all socialized to be anti-Black, and Jennifer Cheatham is perceived as being a good white woman by leaders, by design she is able to switch the narrative of the incident from being traumatic, horrific, unthinkable act, to merely a “conflict.”

You see the difference? You see how her use of words downplay and minimize the severity of the incident?

Later in the letter she uses words like healing, affirming, and protection to insinuate that they are valued and practiced by MMSD without saying so. To say they uphold these values directly would have created a Blacklash, because Black families know that this is not true. But to imply MMSD hold such values – or would like to hold such values – creates a sense of partnership and compassion without it having to be true.

This is wordsmithing, which is used by abusers and politicians to implant self-doubt, and to change the narrative of a Black child being a victim to the Black child being the cause of their own abuse. Framing an eleven year old Black as the problem vs a 52 year old white man trained in cultural responsiveness and racial justice. Which upholds and reinforces ideas of white supremacy racism that says Black bodies are undeserving of protection. She enforces and upholds white supremacy racism without having to say it directly. Without having to change or acknowledge the root of the problem, which of course allows the problem to continue. The root being anti-blackness, embedded in all of MMSD polices, practices and responses.

She goes on to say, “Our focus now is on fully supporting the student and family as well as the Whitehorse community as a whole.” The problem is they didn’t support the mom or the little girl. The mom felt talked at and around. They didn’t contact Child Protective Services, and they didn’t file a complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. They also didn’t contact the police, the mom did. Again, Jennifer Cheatham downplayed the severity of the incident and failed to hold her self and her administrators accountable, framing the Black little girl as the problem, NOT the paid, trained staff. Jennifer Cheatham and her administrators, as well as her boss – the board of MMSD – failed to acknowledge and respond to the harm caused by so many at Whitehorse and MMSD.

Jennifer Cheatham follows up with, “As a school district, we must be the healers and protectors that our students deserve and ensure that our schools and classrooms are places that value, affirm and uplift our students”. First of all, there’s nothing affirming about being brutalized at school by a teacher, in front of your class. There’s nothing uplifting as a parent being called to the school by your daughter, NOT a teacher, and being told by your daughter, not an administrator, that she’s been badly injured by an administrator. MMSD failed this little girl and her family. Jennifer Cheatham covered it up by using words of sympathy and compassion while failing to act in, or extend—sympathy, compassion, and healing to the family. MMSD also failed to adhere to what Jennifer Cheatham refers to as “what the school must be,” but never addressed the realities of what the school district continues to actually be for Black students.

MMSD as a whole not only support policies that ensure microaggressions AKA racism, such as police in schools and metal detectors, MMSD also fails to do anything about the consequences of their decisions and indecisions. Instead they add additional funding to police Black bodies. That is the very definition of insanity: doing the same thing (criminalizing Black bodies) and expecting a different result. Jennifer Cheatham suggest that the values of MMSD are that of healing and being protectors that are affirming and uplifting, but how is that true when Mr. Owens was not arrested, the police were not called, CPS was not called, DPI was not called and the mother was NOT called by the school but by the injured child? When do values translate into action? And when does the action and words of the superintendent and MMSD translate into protecting Black children?

MMSD and Whitehorse elementary school failed all the way around in providing protection for this little girl, but because Jennifer is so talented at gas-lighting she has some of us thinking her words are rooted in reality, when reality is in direct opposition to her words. She goes on to say, “Whenever these systems fail, or when we face an incident that counters our values, we pause, review our processes and procedures to ensure that something like this can never happen again.” It’s crazy to me that she says this. One, because as you will see in the coming months, there are hundreds of incidents reported to schools that are not reported to the public. That hasn’t prompted the school district in any way to review and/or change its policies or processes to ensure that “it never happens again.” Did you hear about the principal at Blackhawk Middle School who purposely triggered a student and then headbutted him? Yeah. I didn’t hear about it either. The school district failed to take any real actions in response to that situation.

In fact, abuse by the hands of administrators and staff is very common throughout MMSD. I’ve taken reports of several Black parent detailing their experience with MMSD and the abuse their children suffered. Including a high school student at East High school who was roughed up by a teacher in another teachers class. MMSD was given ample opportunity to “be” the MMSD Jen so eloquently describes. Each incident was handled the same. The child was suspended. Nothing happen to the teacher. Police report filed. Nothing happens. Complaint filed with DPI. Parent(s) get tired of fighting in an unmovable system alone. And the cycle continues.

Despite the latest incident being public, it was still handled the same way. The child was suspended. Nothing happened to the administrator. No charges have been filed. Instead of Whitehorse doing what their superintendent implied should be done, they did the opposite. They denied the brutalization of an 11 year old Black girl occurred. They denied the mother protection by not contacting the appropriate authorities. They failed to do anything when another parent filed a complaint against Rob Muller Owens at Whitehorse Elementary for pushing her child against a locker months before the 11 year old Black girl was brutalized. Consequently, they (Whitehorse & MMSD) sent a message that racism in the form of anti-Blackness will continue to be tolerated and they (MMSD) will continue to do nothing.

Her second letter was sent out on 2/28/19. Following the MMSD school board meeting on 2/25/18, at which time she and the school board were put on notice by youth organizers and community activists that a rapid response team and a legal team was being formed for the purpose of protecting students and families, and for collecting & documenting stories of abuse and racism.

Per her letter:

  • A new system for staff, students, and families to report incidents of racism or discrimination that will launch this spring
  • A full review of investigation and critical response protocols to ensure they are culturally responsive, grounded in restoration, and more transparent
  • Revision and consistent application of the MMSD equity tool to ensure current and future HR policy and practice, as well as Board policy recommendations, are developed through a racial equity lens.
  • A refresh of the School Improvement Planning process to ensure that race, rigor and relationships are central to school based decision making

A new required professional development series for all staff on racial identity, implicit bias, and racial inequity in the United States, along with a refined support and accountability system to monitor progress

According to Jen, a new system is set to launch in the spring to report incidents, but this system was not discussed with staff, or the school board, or the people that will be most impacted by it, Black students and families. NO one knows what this system is or how it will function, but supposedly it’s set to launch in a few weeks?

I explicitly talked at the school board meeting on 2/25/19 about a community initiative that was set to launch that week. An initiative that would include a system for reporting incidents of racism and abuse centering Black students and families which would expose MMSD’s habit of sweeping racist incidents and abuse under the rug. Forcing them to deal with the outrageous number of cases of physical abuse. Making them visible via videos and blogs.

Her lack of details concerning a “new” system, and the fact that no one’s heard of this “new” system, leads one to ask, where did her idea come from? A Black activist? Me? Who she failed to give credit to? That is white supremacy in action. Her attempt to gas light us and then steal ideas presented by the community without crediting the community is not only disheartening but also telling of MMSD’s inability to build collaborative partnerships with the community. And when we dig deeper into the question of what is this “new” system, we have to ask who will control this system? The perpetrators? The school district is going to control a system that’s supposedly set up to hold them accountable? Doesn’t that sound counter-intuitive?

She goes on to offer, “A full review of investigation and critical response protocols to ensure they are culturally responsive, grounded in restoration, and more transparent.” Wasn’t the person who brutally attacked an 11 year old Black girl, Robert Owens, the director of their restorative justice program and director of inclusion/diversity? We should trust MMSD to review their own process for improvement? More disturbing is her use of words such as review that imply action, without having to take any actions. Again, Jennifer Cheatham is an expert at wordsmithing and upholding white supremacy racism. What does this mean? It means that if MMSD is serious about doing the “work” they have to hire outside, community based organizations to do the work.

It doesn’t make sense and it stands in opposition of the work required if MMSD administrators, the perpetrators, are responsible for investigating and responding to incidence(s) of racism. Not to mention, what is culturally responsive? And who gets to define culturally responsiveness? Nonprofit organizations that reflect the status quo? Or people directly responsible for maintaining police presence within our schools. Will they define cultural responsiveness? The people who think the answer to the challenges Black children face is to put police in schools? The same police that are violating Black bodies in Black communities? Will MMSD board members define culturally responsiveness? Folks who are removed from the realities of Black experiences? So much so, that every decision they make causes more harm to Black children vs eliminating it.

Her next actionable step is a full review and investigation of an equity tool that hasn’t worked and doesn’t work by the same folks who created it? Who thought the equity tool was culturally responsive? It’s so absurd that no further words are needed to explain why it’s absurd.

She goes on to offer a “refresh” of the School Improvement Plan, a plan that’s not culturally responsive. A plan that lacks resources to implement. A plan not supported by all teachers or students. A plan that isn’t working will be refreshed? What is refresh? What does that mean? Again, another example of Jen’s amazing ability to wordsmith us.

“Refresh”? How does something that isn’t working be “refreshed”? When I tell you that Jennifer Cheatham is an expert at wordsmithing, she is an expert. She is brilliant. The problem is, that we, the People, see her and we hear her regurgitation of our words and our desires framed to fit her white constituents desires of inaction and it will not be tolerated.

Her last action step was a “personal development series for all staff on racial identity”, etc. Which sounds great on paper. However, what does personal development in relations to a culture rooted in anti Blackness mean? What’s the purpose of focusing on personal development when it doesn’t address MMSD’s culture and history of anti Blackness? The issue, Jen, is that the culture of the school district is entrenched in white supremacy racism, and NO personal development series will unpack and/or recreate the district’s culture. Any and all training and/or initiatives must deal with and address all levels of racism that are active within Madison’s school district. Which are personal, interpersonal, institutional and cultural racism. For change to be genuine and lasting, it must encompass all four levels/realms. These four realms are inextricably related. They feed into one another. As mentioned by Jen, MMSD must be willing to do whatever it takes to disrupt racism. If they are serious about disrupting racism, then they have to start at all levels. If they’re serious about interrupting their own institutional culture rooted in the criminalization of Black bodies, Jennifer Cheatham, MMSD—then they should listen, engage, and allocate funds to community/grass-root focused initiatives.

Her continual dismissal and failure to reach out to the folks that are in the trenches picking up the pieces of broken families impacted by the school district’s policies and practices is telling of whether or not the school district is serious about disrupting racism. As stated by Jennifer Cheatham,

“If we are serious about our vision — that every school is a thriving school — we have to
disrupt racism in all of its forms. We cannot be silent. We cannot perpetuate it. We must
examine everything.”

What really are they willing to examine if they don’t form real partnerships with the people that are doing the work? How do you disrupt and/or dismantle racism while oppressing Black children? The two are incongruent. How do you celebrate Black history month with Black Lives Matter curriculum while allowing the perpetrators of violence towards Black children (police) to roam the building locking up Black children? Our children see MMSD half efforts, which compounds their feelings of unworthiness and upholds
the notion that they are indeed undeserving of protection and edification.

MMSD decisions and in actions sends the message to the Black community that they (MMSD) can not be trusted. And Jennifer Cheatham’s open letter to the community confirms that we, the Black community, are right.

Throughout her letters she undermines the efforts of the folks that are in the trenches by suggesting indirectly that the work that we’re demanding is already being done. However, as a mother and a community activist, I know this to be false and I am not alone. MMSD coordinators and other Black faces hired to do the work are not supported, nor do they have the resources to do said work. Their positions and efforts sound good on paper (like Jen’s letters). The reality is, without real actions and real results, their positions and efforts were and continue to be a public relations move, and we, the people are demanding real results and efforts. As she pointed out, if MMSD is serious about disrupting racism, MMSD should be diligent in doing so. However, all we’ve gotten from the district is lip service, fancy strategic plans, and planning that lacks a backbone (collaborative community centered support) and funding.

Recall, gas-lighting is manipulation. Gas lighting is abuse. Maybe it wasn’t her intention to be abusive and dismissive, but as she pointed out, intention is not necessary for racism to be carried out. Dear MMSD and Jennifer Cheatham, put your money where your mouth is.

  • End the contract with Madison Police Department
  • Hire parents and community members instead of police to direct our children
  • Allow the community’s initiative access to schools to provide rapid response advocates for our children and their families
  • Engage the community by engaging organizations and individuals that are doing the work
  • Implement a zero tolerance policy for administrators. Send the message that racism in any form will not be tolerated. As well as abuse in any form.
  • Allocate funds to support a reporting system of racist incidents. Overseen by a community lead organization—like the peoples initiative, Building Capacity for Protecting Black children.
  • Provide training that include all realms of racism. Training provided by the community for the community.
  • File a complaint with DPI. Petition to have Mr. Owens license revoked.
  • Support the community in demanding the arrest of Mr. Owens.

We the people demand action over lip service. We the people demand results. WE, the people, will not stand by while you continue to play respectability politics with Black children lives and give us nothing more than lip service.

It was imperative for me to write this long op-ed to help folks understand how racism is upheld by folks who may or may not mean to be racist. As Jennifer Cheatham stated, “It is at times intentional and unintentional. It is everywhere, every day. It is within us and surrounds us. Any school district is a microcosm of the society we live in.” Its an honor to know Jen that you listen to my live videos, but you’re going to have to do more then repeat my words—you’re going to have to do the work demanded by those most impacted by MMSD’s culture of white supremacy racism.



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On February 11, the Young Gifted and Black Coalition and Movement Fund hosted the People's Mayoral Forum, where five of Madison's candidates for mayor - Toriana Pettaway, Maurice Cheeks, Satya-Rhodes Conway, Raj Shukla, and Nick Hart - debated the best ways to achieve racial justice and improve education in Madison.

To watch the full video, click below!


Getting Past the Politics: YGB Interviews Madison Mayoral Candidates

The following are interviews conducted by the Young Gifted and Black Coalition's Sed Smith with candidates for the Mayor of Madison. 

If you want to support YGB's advocacy work, please visit our donate page and join the Movement Fund!


Toriana Pettaway


Why are you running?

Part of the reason I’m running is because I don’t see myself in this city. I don’t see myself in the design, the build, or within these places. Where do i go to see people who look like me. Black and Brown communities should be so much further and i’m just not happy with that. Nothing has changed. We see the same people saying the same thing over several years we are still talking about it. These problems should have been dealt with ten years ago. Where is the progress report? We want see so many disparities amongst people in this city and i’m tired of seeing the same disparities within the government.



Who is Toriana at the core?
First of all, as a person, I’m a woman of God first and foremost. My faith is what grounds me, centers me, and gives me purpose. I’m a mother. I love my children and I love my family. I’m someone who’s passionate about serving others in this community. I hear the residents in a way that they want others to hear them in too. I see people. That’s who I am, I’m the type of person that wants people to know that they are seen. I would like to be the conduit, or the catalyst, to make other people feel like they can thrive and prosper. Everybody wants to have a sense of belonging. I want to operate in a space where I can relate to people and make sure I am my best self to serve other people. I’m compassionate, I’m discerning. People in my work say I give too much and I’m okay with that. That’s what I was created to do and I’m not going to change who I am. I give all of me and it’s to serve other people.


What’s your biggest motivation?
My children are my biggest motivation. My motivation is seeing others who have come before who have made what I can do possible. I have to have hope that if they prevailed and were able to find some means of success through all of the struggles and disappointments and were able to make a way for their family, that I can too. That gives me hope. I have to to continue to do that for my children my family and friends and the community that i’m passionate about. I’m a woman of faith and God has me here for a purpose.



Opinion on new jails? Disproportionality in prison sentences?
I don’t think we should be building more prisons. I think we should be reducing prison complexes. I know the disparities we see in institutions are out of sync. I think how we sentence, how we police, and have people re-enter into society needs to be re-evaluated. Many of the folks don’t belong there and they were unfairly prosecuted and I think non-violent crimes should...I think this needs to constantly be reviewed. The people who brought the unfair penalties should be re-evaluated and prosecuted. We need an overhaul of the criminal justice system. Criminal justice is a business. People profiting off of the backs of Black and Brown people. The inequities in that are another form of slavery and we must name them as that.



How are we going to solve disparities in schools? Student opportunities?

There are several things that need to’s not just up to schools. It should start within the home. My parents equipped me with that knowledge that everyone won’t treat you as family. Parents should educate their children on how to navigate life different for Black and Brown children as well as White children being aware of privileges that they have as well as how to speak up when they see things that are wrong...Everyone teaching their children respect and what equity really is. Awareness also has to happen within the school. We must have culturally competent administrations and teachers. It can’t be transactional, but a transformation. It’s operationalized. The curriculum, the policies, and the procedures have to be lived out in everything done and practiced and rewarded because it’s a lived experience. It needs to be reflected in the hiring of all staff. And reflection of the children amongst the staff is a must as well. It’s a collaborative approach.


I have a vision...There’s a gap of an unmet need in this community for youth 12-26. The mall policy grieved kids, it was one of the last safe zones for kids. You penalize a whole generation of youth for the acts of a few. Reaching out to a few people to get ahead of afforded me the opportunity with kids to talk about how we can adjust the policy. How do you counteract someone trying to implement a policy? We showed the kids a we the people process on a reversing a policy and showed them how to come together and use the same information to counteract this action. When I’m mayor, I plan on organizing a non-profit that will incorporate youth teaching youth, creating their own brand of business for themselves. A Business enterprise designed by kids and not adults. Planning curriculum and reaching kids who aren’t being reached. Anyone who is closest to the issues need to create what they want to do. And you have to have a good facilitator for that. These young folks are lacking belonging and hope. We don’t invest funds into them. We don’t invest resources into them. We don’t invest in spaces for them. They need to see themselves in these spaces. I want to remind them that we are all Madison. If you don’t feel part of the all then you are othered. People want to see themselves and this is the biggest part of inclusion. It’s time and It requires hard choices, getting uncomfortable, talking to someone from a different neighborhood. This is everybody’s city.



How can we create a more accessible city?

What I want to focus on is making sure that the community has more access internally including those who don’t have access to downtown. Why does everyone always have to come downtown? We need to make the government more accessible. I want our leaders in government to be more transparent. I want them to know the community. The leaders in government being able to connect to what local leaders are going through. If you’re a policy maker and can’t relate to the average citizen, then I don’t want you making a decision for me.



Is Madison a truly ‘progressive’ city?

 We’ve had the title of progressive, but I think we’re living in an illusion. We’re progressive when it comes to dominant construct, but when it comes down to things that matter most to tough decisions for everyone. We’re living in an illusion. Many people don’t see themselves in the struggle.



What is Madison's greatest challenge?

Dealing with Racial Discrimination and Disparities. We are living in an illusion if you us othering language...those people from Chicago, I don't want them people in my neighborhood, Hip-hop music mean criminal activity take the liquor licence, or just do not issue one give other reason!


What work have you done to mitigate Madison's racial barriers?

Besides being the City's Equity Coordinator for the last three plus years. I am actively engaged with my community on multiple levels addressing housing instability for Madison most needed. I have worked as a homeless coordinator with my church for seven years with community partner formally Interfaith Hospitality Network now The Road Home. In addition to the Fair Housing of Great Madison sense 2007 Advisor Board and Testing. Beyond these rolls I have made countless connections in the community because the awesomeness gained from being a YWCA third shift Y-Transit Driver.



Why should Madison pick you?

Madison residents should pick me it's next Mayor because I bring experience to the position of Mayor from two prospective. As a professional who have navigated both State and City government as a Human Resources professional leading Administrator of State Agencies and Department Head on how to be good managers, I understand and lead personnel management, labor relations with unions, and capital and operational budgets. I am the only candidate who manages a Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative with a team of 40 people whom with that has national recognition for leading the nation on deconstructing institutional racism in our policies, practice, structure/operations, budgets and in our community for our low-income, marginalized and people of color. Ser attentments for my solutions for Madison difficult issues we a faced today. I have the experience to address and implement real inclusion from a grassroots engagement that is fiscally responsible.




Maurice Cheeks


Why are you running?

Seeing Barack Obama elected expanded horizons as much as possible. It expanded how I felt I could express my citizenship. Growing up I had a good relationship with my dad. He worked a lot to provide for his family. I remember we woke up to go to his jobsite and we were on a strike. He worked for a union. He said:

‘This is why I’m so hard on you. Part of the fact that I’ve been able to support our family...This is what it looks like fighting for ourselves to get a quarter raise. I want you to be the first Cheeks to write his own ticket. Prove to your brothers this is possible. I want you to figure out how you can help yourself and others.’

I knew I wanted to be of service in college. I knew teachers who were in service, so I went to school to be a teacher. I didn’t become an educator, but I still wanted to be of service. I settled in Madison in 2007 and started tutoring in the schools. I started volunteering. I was elected to city council at 28 years old.

After the 2016 Presidential elections I started thinking about how we can lead locally. This is still our state, still our city. We can’t give up because we elected the wrong president. We still have to fight for civil rights and women's rights. There’s still place to move a needle on that in our community. We should absolutely be able to broaden the table so that more people can fit. My job as mayor will be to uplift the voice of the community. We’ve been lacking that in Madison for 8 years. Everything about our society is different. It’s like student loans...forty years ago college was $800 a semester cheaper. We are not the same America. We are not the same Madison. I think the job of being mayor in Madison is too big to be anyone’s back up plan. We should expect someone to be committed to their job and it’s critical that we have leadership focused on community and city as an act of service.



Who is Mo Cheeks at the core?

I’m a father. I’m a husband...I’m somebody who has been serving on the Madison city council for 6 years. I’m the district 10 alder where i’ve been serving Allied, Nacoma and everything in between…They’re microcosms of the city. In a day job I have a career in the tech industry. I’m someone who is excited to see what we can bring to the city. I’m the oldest of three boys with an involved dad who shared a lot of how he thinks about the world. We grew up in Matteson, Illinois in the middle class. The only people I recall having college degrees were my teachers. I’m a biracial black man who found his identity in the time where I thought it wasn’t possible to elect Barack Obama.



What’s your biggest motivation?
I want to make Madison a city where every community has kids ready to learn and families that feel safe. A community that has access to food and transportation to navigate this community...people that live with dignity. We have people on a limp just trying to pay rent. I want to make this everybody's city...a city with mutual interdependence.



Opinion on new jails? Disproportionality in prison sentences?

This is a big question with intergenerational parts. We have small conversations about what is the precise number of police to add to force to make the city more sage. Talking about safety to acknowledge that conversation is bigger than policing. By the time the police are involved the ‘thing’ has already happened. People have conversations about incarceration and more police. Does that make us a more sage community? We have to think about kids growing up in broken homes without male role models. We’ve been doing this for generations. Our system has been actively disproportionately wrecking Black families.



How are we going to solve disparities in schools? Student opportunities?

As Mayor I’m going to make sure that every child has a college savings account. We have research that they are more likely to graduate. With this they will have an identity formed. I’m going to establish a program so every high school student has access to an internship. After which they will return learning better when they are productive in the summer. They’ll see something for their future. My focus is at the systems level, not how do we put $1000 into a program, but how do we reimagine the foundation of the blocks of society so that it feels different to be a member of the society in Madison. A place where every kid believes someone is believing in them and investing in them. Even if their parents are incarcerated, have mental health issues, etc. our can community still believes in kids regardless of color. Maybe we can shift biases made against people in our community. None of this is simple stuff. We’re still working on it. We’re still listening.



How can we create a more accessible city?

We have to work hard to advocate with peer communities in the surrounding area to create support for regional taxi authority. We need people to be able to access jobs in sun prairie or fitchburg, or even just be able to go to the theatre. Being able to fund needs to be more than just complaining about the state. We need to lean on relationships developed state wide to work with folks to support this. We need to look at Eau Claire and Appleton.



Is Madison a truly ‘progressive’ city?

We need to be frank about this as a community. We need to figure out how to create work that creates upward mobility. We have to be aware of where the city is investing the money. If we’re investing in projects that will support employers, we have to support employers that will be willing to be community partners. Places where the community can move up the ladders and make a life for themselves. I want to diversify the middle class. 100state, for example, is the largest coworking space in Wisconsin. I want to see space that is diverse. We have all types of entrepreneurship in communities of color. As a community we need to make sure we are supporting this work. We need to be a community creating authentic space for communities of color.



What is Madison's greatest challenge?
The central challenge we face is racial and economic inequality. We have the most diverse economy and the most diverse population that our city has ever had. Yet, in Madison, the two primary socioeconomic demographics that have grown in recent years are households making six-figure incomes and households earning less than $30,000 a year. My priority as mayor is ensuring that our growing prosperity is affording to the benefit of all Madisonians. Because to be the most innovative, inclusive, and safe Madison possible -- it is imperative that we ALL do better.

What work have you done to mitigate Madison's racial barriers?
In my first year on the Madison Common Council, I authored and passed the city’s Ban the Box ordinance requiring hiring practices that prevent discrimination based on criminal record. This legislation was written with the involvement of leaders and advocates in the re-entry movement. This reform was particularly crucial in Madison, where arrest rates and conviction rates are disproportionately high for black and brown people, and where discrimination based on someone’s past was a recurring concern as people tried to get ahead. That is why I didn’t stop there but then expanded it to apply to anyone doing business with the city.

Likewise, as an Alder on the Common Council, I sponsored the funding that we allocated to reviewing the Madison Police Department Policy, Procedure, Culture, and Training practices, which resulted in the OIR report. This work is going to be critical to raising the bar for what safe policing, and community relationships with police can hope to be.

Personally, even before being elected to the council, I spent years tutoring young men of color in our schools, and have been an advocate and supporter of job training programs that have a successful track record of empowering people of color to get ahead in our workforce.

I recognize that my election would be historic as the first African American ever elected Mayor of Madison, and I’m committed to returning the classroom and being a mayor that tutors in our schools.


Why should Madison pick you?
I’m running for mayor of Madison to take on our persistent reputation as a tale of two cities.
As an alder who serves in one of the most diverse districts, I’ve spent the past six years representing Madisonians from all walks of life. Additionally, as a high-tech business leader in Madison, I know that our city’s economy can't grow without improved access to a diverse and educated workforce. And as an advocate for our schools, and past tutor in our schools, my commitment to our next generation has been unwavering.

These experiences are essential because Madisonians deserve a mayor who brings a sense of urgency to fight for all of our futures and one who can authentically bring together various constituents to ensure our community lives up to our progressive values.




Satya-Rhodes Conway


Why are you running?

People have been asking me to run since I was on the council. I’m running because I want to make sure Madison is a city where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. We need someone who’s not going to just talk, but someone who’s going to get the job done.



Who is Satya at the core?

I am from second hand clothes. From Wonder Woman and Nancy Drew. I am from the kitchen with mismatched plates and silverware, accumulated from garage sales and Salvation Army stores, chipped and worn with faded beauty. I am from lilacs, both the single old tree spreading it’s offspring across the lawn and the carefully manicured specimens in Highland Park. I'm from scientists and artists. From Jane and Josey. I'm from intellect and opinion. From “act like you own the place” and “don’t put your elbows on the table”. I'm from Christmas and Passover and Solstice, home cooked meals with family, chosen or not. I'm from Espanola, the lowrider capital of the world, but also Rochester and La Jolla, Platteville and Grosse Pointe. Home baked banana bread and holiday morning waffles. From the time Dusty jumped out of a runaway peach truck and broke his arm. From Anne’s choosing art over a “normal” life. Kodachrome slides stacked in boxes, memories of Libya, Europe, Colorado, Japan, Altadena. Images you can only see with forgotten technology.

I was born in New Mexico to parents who were hippies living off of the grid. In middle school, I led all school meetings and those skills have been important in my work in government. I went to Smith College in Massachusetts studying biology. My masters degree was in Ecology. nI eventually applied to an internship at the State Environmental Resource Center.  I worked on policy on state levels. I talked my way out of an internship and into a job. After three years I got the job at COWS and I’ve been at UW ever since. I bought a house and live in Lincoln park neighborhood. I live with my partner and my dog. I was on the city council for ten years.



What’s your biggest motivation?

For me, what it comes down to is that there are things we need to be working on that aren’t working hard or fast enough in the city. If we don’t work on them now, they become harder and more expensive five years down the road. If we had started building more affordable housing ten years ago, we wouldn’t be where we are now. What I see in other cities that I see here is that we’re not willing to accept density. We can’t fall into the trap of opposing across the board. We have to make sure ti’s productive across the board.



Opinion on new jails? Disproportionality in prison sentences?

I say no to privatized prisons. There’s no excuse. And why prison just to begin with? Not that there shouldn’t be consequences for crimes that hurt the community, but I’m way more interested in restorative justice and ways that communities can make amends by giving back to the community. Addiction, mental health issues, or poverty, we need to address the issues instead of locking people up in cages. Change comes slow within the criminal justice system, but it doesn’t mean we don’t try it. I doesn’t maen that we shouldn’t decriminalize poverty. We need to think about all of these things to keep people out of the system.



How are we going to solve disparities in schools? Student opportunities?

There are a lot of things that belong to the school district. We have to think about what the city can do. Kid show up to school having ‘behavior problems’ or fights or whatever/ Why are they don’t that? It’s historical trauma. Are they eating enough? Are their needs being met? Why are they being presented as a problem in local schools? And why are we punishing kids that are having a reaction to their world? I’m talking about access to healthy food in neighborhoods. Making sure kids get to school safely. Focusing on transit. Making sure kids have a safe healthy place to live which mens affordable housing for their families. Kids don’t want to have to move around, we need more stability. It all goes back to affordable housing, food access, affordability and a good transit system. That’s sort of the top of the line.

You would think the question of giving students opportunities would be straight-forward. I would love to see more paid internships, seeing people learning and getting paid across the board. Like Operation Fresh Start, teaching construction, home renovation, ecological restoration, and clean up crews. Any number of things that need to be done in the public realm if there are young people who need job opportunities and need to learn skills. This is crazy, but one of the things that needs to be done is that there are hundreds of single family homes that need to have energy efficiency. Could we not have these kids in need of opportunity train to weatherize and make homes more energy efficient? We need more fresh foods. Why not train folks to farm? Why not have market gardens?



How can we create a more accessible city?

We need rapid transit. We need people to get to their damn jobs. I’m lucky because I live where I live. If I worked at East Towne or one of the hotels, I wouldn’t be able to take the bus. That’s not right. That’s closing off an opportunity and that’s not right. I want to do something about it, this is where the city could be doing something, but it isn’t. I want to see kids in folks own their own business. We need tiny houses for homeless people. There’s a need and it builds potential wealth within the community. I was appointed member of the Madison Food Policy Council. We’ve been working on healthy food access, healthy retails, and a couple of grant funds. Funded Luna’s Grocery’s and River Food Pantry to buy a refrigerated truck. There’s needs in the community…we have to do that in a way that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. That’s why I’m running.



Is Madison a truly ‘progressive’ city?

I think individually people who live in Madison are progressive and would describe themselves as such. I don’t think our city government has been progressive as it should be given who lives here. That’s a part of why I’m running. I see the places we are resting on our laurels. I know we can do better. We don’t do a good enough job in this city listening to the impact of communities and treating them like they have access and something to contribute. We have to take that. We have to take asset based approach to our neighborhoods. We have to look at grassroots solutions that exist and support them, because the city government is pretty white. We have a dynamic bunch of white people coming to poor neighborhoods to fix the problems and it’s not how the problems get better. We have to break that up and think about how we support the community. How we empower communities. That’s going to be uncomfortable for  a lot of white people. It’s going to be hard. We’re going to have to step on toes. It may be hard, but we have to do it. Opportunity gaps any gaps don’t shift until we build capacity and empower the people. What does that look like? I’m not exactly sure and that’s okay because we have to source those solutions form the communities themselves. It’s something that I want to start.




Raj Shukla


Why are you running?

We’re confronted with a few challenges that are converging. In this moment issues of racial social and economic inequity that the world is grappling with, Madison is no exception.

We have a federal government and a good chunk the state government, a little less of it now, that is openly hostile to the values of this community. And hostile to the ways that we want to address some of our problems. Then we have climate change that will affect every facet of our lives for the rest of forever. That is how it is. Everyone is being called to do more: to bring communities together and make progress in the face of difficult challenges including people like me who are political newcomers. I feel that I am not a newcomer to leadership. I Chaired City committee called Sustainable Madison Committee. We have written legislation, built coalitions on council to pass resolutions to commit the city to the most ambitious climate change goals in the state. Other communities have since followed suit...I’m also the executive director of a statewide water policy group. I believe I am one of two candidates in the race with actual executive experience. Myself and Paul Soglin. The skillset is one of being able to articulate a vision for an organization being able to motivate and manage talented employees. It’s a skillset that requires you to make tough decision. We have issues like affordable housing and transit that is broke in the community. We have issues of racial inequality that play to the eye, but also to the spirit when you just talk to people that are living in circumstances that are blatantly unfair and that can’t survive. I want to be a mayor that can replicate some of the success i’ve seen professionally and certainly as a civic leader and I hope as a father. I want to bring people together to solve difficult challenges and set the bar higher than we have.


Who is Raj at the core?

When you ask people who i am and people who know me, they think of me as deeply principled person who is fiercely committed to working with everyone in order to make progress. I’m the son of immigrants who grew up in Waukesha. I’m the father of a child with a disability. Those two parts of who I am have built an ethic in me that you just don’t turn away from people. You do everything you can to build relationships with people even those who you disagree with and make progress to find commonality. I’m principled but pragmatic that prides community above all else.



What’s your biggest motivation?
A challenge. We’re looking at really big challenges that only get harder as time goes by. Our community is growing with different perspectives as we try to mesh. And we are dealing with the spectre of human climate change, which no one else in history has had to manage. We have giant challenges ahead of us. When I look at my daughters, I am motivated by the idea that I need to wake up everyday and do everything I can to make this world everything they deserve. Everything their friends deserve. The world that my parents deserve to. The world that my neighbor deserves...they have every much a right to a city that is clean, a city that is equitable, and a city that is prosperous. People motivate me. Spread love and I know that might sound cheesy, but it’s true. We need a lot more folks especially within political leadership who insist on treating one another with respect, with compassion, with creativity, and ambition. We owe it to each other.



Opinion on new jails? Disproportionality in prison sentences?

There should be no private prisons. None. I don’t think the solutions to our problems are in jailing more people. I think the solutions in our problems are in caring for more people. I’d like to create a truly citywide Madison model for early childhood care. WHen you look at the research as far the most cost effective way to repay the educational debts we owe young people in this community who are born facing bigger obstacles through no choice of their own and no choice of their parents, we need to repay that debt and the way you can do that and shrink some of the gaps in achievement at school and shrink some of the disparities. We have to focus on birth to three when 80-90% of your neurological development happens as a human being. That should be our focus. We need to have a commitment to early childhood care and necessary resources and systems. So that every child gets the resources they need to start off on an even playing field.



How are we going to solve disparities in schools? Student opportunities?

This is a difficult question. Especially when you have a state limiting resource to schools. Special education affects me the most. Most of the kids in special education are kids of color. Kids who need special education, but often don’t get it are also children of color. I do believe that representation in decision making is important. I’m seeing people of color on the school board and it’s eye opening to be having conversation with people of color having represented voices. I don’t think you can separate the disparities in schools form the economic disparities you are seeing outside of school. Challenges are of social welfare and not just education. Schools are a reflection of society instead of a driver. THey are important. Kids aren’t getting the right nutrition when they are outside of school. These are economic issues.

When it comes to student job opportunities, this is one of those areas where environmental goals and social justice intersect. I very much want to see how we can expand energy efficiency and renewable energy on people's homes in our community. There are financing questions involved, but imagine us making a concerted effort to expand, for example, people insulating their homes. You need people who know how to do that and people who can be trained on how to do that. So why can’t the city expand on some work that it’s already doing, but bring young people into a trade like that. Give young people a start on an area that the economy really needs and an area that the environment really needs and a path to employment that that young person really needs. We can give these kids the opportunity to be the hero in a big story: How we’re going to manage climate change and in the process give them a skill that may the foundation of them starting a business. A foundation of a lifetime of employment. That’s one way I’d like to see if we could approach this.



How can we create a more accessible city?

It starts with leadership. You learn this very viscerally when you lead an organization. Even in the most collaborative like the flat management structure I have at river alliance. The leader of every organization sets the tone. Right now we have a mayor whose first response is to deny and just say things are getting better. I don’t believe that’s leadership. That’s the opposite of leadership. Refusing to recognize the pain is not leadership to me. It’s important to people who are leaders in the business community to be unafraid of acknowledging where we need to grow and what progress we need to make.



Is Madison a truly ‘progressive’ city?

I don’t think that we’re meeting the expectations we have for ourselves. I chose to live here. All three of our daughters were born at Meriter hospital. All three of them attend the public schools here in Madison. We love this city and there’s a lot to love about this city, but here’s the reality. Unlike 40 years ago, we are a city with more people, with a diversity in voices that didn't used to exist and we need to embrace them in a way that we haven’t before. If we want to attract and retain world class talent, that’s going to power our economy going forward, we will need to demonstrate that we embrace a full range of ideas from everybody in the community, not just city government. Everyone in the community feels that same love. Too many people are shut out from what makes this community a great place. This isn’t acceptable to me.



What is Madison's greatest challenge?
Madison's greatest challenge is whether we can grow and prosper in a way that is environmentally responsible, and true to our commitments to racial and social equity. I believe we can and have outlined my Green Growth Agenda on my website:

If we can focus on clean, affordable energy, scaling up birth-three supports for families, expanding our transit system and eliminating exclusionary zoning practices, we will be on our way. But we need experienced leadership that can bring people together to make progress. That's what I offer in this race.



What work have you done to mitigate Madison's racial barriers?
My city committee, the Sustainable Madison Committee, has focussed on recruiting women and people of color to our membership since I took over as chair in 2014. We have also instilled racial and social justice into the legislation we have written. Our latest proposal to implement recommendations to get to 100% renewable energy explicitly requires the Racial Equity & Social Justice Initiative Toolkit be used by the city to reach our objectives.

As the executive director at a state-wide water policy organization, I have taken similar steps. We have doubled the number of staff of color since my arrival, and re-doubled efforts to support and celebrate the work and accomplishments of tribal partners.

I have also worked with children of color in the foster care system as a Dane County Court Appointed Special Advocate. The intersection of race and poverty played out in excruciating detail during my service. The experience continues to inform my every action as a civic leader.



Why should Madison pick you?
I am one of only two candidates in this races that runs an organization -- Mayor Soglin being the other. I set a vision, manage a talented team, meet a payroll, and make the tough decisions when budgets and priorities collide.

I also bring a fresh perspective to the stale state of local politics. My reputation as a civic leader and executive rests on the foundation of being a listener who bring people together to make progress.

This city needs new energy to make a Madison that works for all of us. I offer the experience and fresh ideas to lead the city with creativity, ambition and a sense of common purpose.



Nick Hart


What is Madison's greatest challenge?

Madison’s greatest challenge is the people have to be honest with themselves and adhere to the fact that there are racial issues that the city needs to address and soon.


What work have you done to mitigate Madison's racial barriers?

I’m a comedian, every time I take the mic, I’m trying to simultaneously make people laugh while challenging them to rethink their views on society and question why they think the way they do.


Why should Madison pick you?

Why should Madison pick me? I’m charismatic, funny, and black people love me but honestly Madison probably shouldn’t pick me. My whole campaign is based on running for office as civic duty, not as a career. I’m not a politician, I virtually don’t have any money behind me so I’m not tied down to any agenda. I’m learning as I go through this experience.



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YGB needs your voice in order to get an investigation by the United Nations as we elevate the conversation of of racial disparities in Madison and fight for justice for Tony Robinson, the unarmed black teen murdered at the hands of officer Matt Kenny of the Madison Police Department  



YGB demands that Matt Kenny, the murderer of Tony Robinson, be fired. Far to often are killer cops left unpunished, and we want Kenny off the streets.



The Young Gifted and Black Coalition is a circle of young leaders determined to end state violence and raise the voice of communities of color. We are young Black Women, Queer Folks, Straight Folks and Feminist Men who are fighting for Black Liberation. Our focus is on the low income black communities that our core members call home. 




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