Community Voices Reflect on the
2020 Civil Rights Agenda
Voting, Democracy and Civil Rights
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Gloria Reyes
Board Chair, Madison
Metropolitan School
District
Education Is the Pathway to Equality and Equity
As we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we reflect on the sacrifices that he endured in the civil rights movement for racial justice in this country.  Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr. was an inspirational man that has left a legacy of courage, humanity and determination.

As President of the Madison School Board, I am proud to be a part of moving us towards an inclusive education, that aims to achieve parity in educational
outcomes that embody the sacrifices and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I reflect on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s. quote. “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.  Intelligence plus character — that
is the goal of true education.”

While we all know this to be true, we continue to fail our African American students at alarming rates.  Our African American children have assets that
demonstrate their resiliency, intelligence and character, but we still continue to struggle in achieving parity in their education.

We are at a time in this community where we are faced with complex challenges of disproportionality among African Americans in unemployment, housing and
poverty, which all factors into a child’s education. The challenges that our education system faces today is a direct result of the historical and current harm of
racism in this country.  

It is the role of our educational system to adjust to the needs of our students breaking through a history of systemic racism at all levels of education and
government systems.

This past year, the Madison Metropolitan School District was faced with realities of how race plays a role in every aspect of our children’s lives, surfacing the
tensions around racial slurs, hate speech and racial incidents in our schools, communities and country and immigration deportations that have impacted the lives
of our children and families.  How do we expect our children to learn when they are faced with the many barriers presented to them outside the classroom?  

The foundation of a thriving city is a strong public school system that prioritizes education for all children. In memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we are reminded
that his work focused on education being a key factor in achieving equality.  As a community, we must continue to invest in our public schools and focus on
equality in education that results in a thriving economy and community for all.  
Patrick J. Sims
UW-Madison Deputy
Vice Chancellor for
Diversity & Inclusion
and Chief Diversity Officer
Breaking Down the Need to Vote
Every January we celebrate the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his peaceful quest for civil rights in a country that was not living up to our
Founders’ declaration of self-evident truths; that all Americans are created equally.

King was an American patriot who worked to heal our country’s inner divide; a division that was a threat to the very existence of democracy by design.  
Government for and by the people is at the center of the American governance trilogy of democracy, civil rights and voting.  Without it, our society can fall into
disarray based on the harsh reality that “freedom has never been free.” This is even more important when the elements that undergird our notion of freedom, such
as our democracy, come under attack.  We must all beg the question, asking ourselves “what must I do to protect these freedoms?”  

Democracy is designed to equitably serve the nation’s citizenry by majority rule.  This premise is brilliantly balanced by the First Amendment right to free speech, a
critical tool to participating in governance through democratic debate.  The right to discuss and disagree is designed to culminate with voting in the democratic
process.   To close the loop, majority rule on our common interests — and by default our civil rights — is why democracy is coveted by countries around the world.
The right to vote for who will represent your interests in government is not only the core of democracy, it sustains civil society, dare I say our freedom. Voting
impacts our quality of life and reflects social change through public policy from desegregation and equitable public education to employment and interpretation of
the law.  If we don’t vote, those who do vote will decide our destiny.

That’s why every vote counts. History documents the power of the ballot, and sadly, the battle to deny its use. In the years immediately following emancipation,
African American voters put 16 African Americans in the U.S. Congress, while more than 600 more were elected to state legislatures and hundreds more held local
offices across the South. Just think — many of these votes were cast with an “X” by former slaves who had been forbidden to read or write.  For the first time in
their lives they were free to choose who would represent their interests.

In 1866, the first civil rights act granted equal rights under the law to all people within the jurisdiction of the United States to protect the newly emancipated class
of former slaves. Two years later, the 14th Amendment enshrined the 1866 Act’s principles in the Constitution. Congress ratified the 15th Amendment forbidding
states from denying the right to vote on grounds of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude" in 1870.

Fast forward nearly 100 years later, Dr. King stood next to President Lyndon Johnson when he signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, outlawing state and local legal
barriers that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote.  A hundred and one years had passed, and once again, democracy sought to end the
denial and violation of constitutional rights with the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 outlawing discrimination in employment and housing based on race, color,
religion or national origin.

The Civil Rights movement set America on a trajectory we’ve yet to fully realize, and our ability to get there has always been clear.  Every vote counts every time,
and the stakes are rising with every election for local school board or council, state office and federal leader. Failing to vote, by choice or default, is not an option.  
I pray that 100 years from now history will tell a different story; one that reflects the struggle and additionally comes full circle to where we are no longer too tired to
pay the costs of our freedom and democracy.  Perhaps one of the most effective ways to celebrate the MLK Holiday is to register and pledge to vote.  Do it on
behalf of the elders from the past and the children to come.
Sharyl Kato
Executive Director and
Child & Family
Therapist at The
Rainbow Project
A Day of Growth and Renewal
As each year passes, the special meaning of celebrating Dr. King’s birthday
means more and more to me.  I do not know of a holiday that I celebrate more that
creates such depth and personal, social and professional growth. During the
entire weekend of his birthday, my thoughts, reflections and interactions generate
around immersing myself in his teaching, his leadership, his actions and his
words. Whether on a solitary reflective time, or participating in the Martin Luther
King Jr Community Choir or the Women in Focus “I Have a Dream Ball,” raising
funds for student of color scholarships, or attending the noon State Capital
celebration and reception and the celebration, honoring MLK Humanitarian Award
recipients and listening to special speakers on Monday evening, it rallies, fuels
and renews my commitment to equity and inclusion.  It is uplifting and refueling as
an opportunity to be with others who fully share the same vision of humanity that
Dr. King described to us. When I say it refuels and rallies me, I do not mean until
the next year of his birthday, but to refuel and rally my commitment every day of
the year to independently joining with others who are healthy, compassionate,
strong people who know me, value, love, and respect me and others for who we
are.  I see the outcome of hate and it is so often and clear that hatred towards
others is self-hatred turned outward.  I am fortunate and honored to have great
friends, family, colleagues and others in the community who understand what life
is about.