WisDems Award Black History Month Awards to Activists, Community Members
Wisconsin's struggle right now has a lot in common with the struggle for rights of African-American citizens fought by legendary forebears like Vel Phillips.
That was the message this weekend during the second annual Black History Month event hosted by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin's Black Caucus, where Phillips celebrated her 88th birthday - and was honored for her path-breaking life-achievements
The recall movement was not far from everyone's minds, as various African-American leaders were honored for their work.
Keynote speaker and Ohio state Sen. Nena Turner fired up the crowd with the message that, "If your hair is on fire you have to act like your hair is on fire."
The event was attended by various elected Democrats, including Sen. Lena Taylor, and Reps. Barbara Toles and Fred Kessler, and was emceed by DNC member Martha Love and Black Caucus Founder and Chair Stephanie Findley.
Held at the MJ Cafe on Brown Deer Road in Milwaukee, the lively event included a soulful performance by singer Imani Smith, great conversations about the nominees as well as the promising future of the state’s African-American community.
The first award presented was the Legacy Award to Will Allen for his leadership in promoting agriculture and healthy food policies as founder and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Growing Power, Inc., which provides hands-on training where residents learn how to grow, process, market and distribute foods. Allen promotes the belief that economic circumstances should not act as a barrier to fresh, safe and nutritious foods.
Last year’s Legacy Award winner was Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines Jr. Other Legacy nominees for 2012 included president of the Milwaukee NAACP chapter Attorney, James Hall Jr., and journalist and associate publisher of the Milwaukee Community Journal, Mikel Holt.
The Emerging Leadership Award was given to Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin. Mitchell played an essential role in last Spring’s protests and rallies at the Capitol in Madison. Over the last year, he has continued advancing the ideals of the Democratic Party by standing up for working families and against the harmful action the Scott Walker administration. County Supervisors Nikiya Harris and Eyon Biddle were also nominated for the award. Last year, the Emerging Leadership award was won by state Rep. Tamara Grigsby.
The Grassroots Organizer Award went to Mandela Barnes, who provides job readiness training to young people as a youth specialist for the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board, serving as a canvass director for Grassroots Solutions and establishing and developing teams in religious congregations as a lead organizer for the Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH). Other nominees for this award included recall volunteer Ronald Lemons and Tracey Dent, a member of the NAACP who also sits on the advisory councils for the Blood Center of Wisconsin and the Urban League Young Professionals. Last year, community organizer Terrell Martin won this award.
In addition to the above awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to the Honorable Vel Phillips for dedicating her life to fighting for civil rights. In her lifetime she has worked with the NAACP to support a city redistricting referendum to increase black political representation, protested against discrimination in housing, education and employment, helped establish Milwaukee’s Fair Housing Law. She was also the first African-American and first woman alderman in Milwaukee. Following that, she was appointed to the Milwaukee County Judiciary and became the Secretary of State of Wisconsin.
Rounding out the awards, a Historical Achievement Award was presented to Ronald Lemons for his integral role in the Scott Walker recall movement. When he collected over 10,000 signatures during the petition-gathering phase, Lemons, quietly, established himself as a statewide leader in demanding accountability from elected officials.
"We stand with you Wisconsin," Ohio's Sen. Turner told the cheering crowd.
Watch a video of the event here.