Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes addresses a crowd at the Capitol during his inaugural address.

MILWAUKEE — Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and members of the Wisconsin Legislative Black Caucus today kicked off Black History Month by touting their commitment to tackling disparities communities of color are facing in education, the criminal justice system and other areas.

The officials, who spoke at a news conference at Milwaukee’s Black Holocaust Museum this morning, also highlighted the progress African-Americans have experienced in the state while acknowledging there are still gains to be made.

Barnes, the second African-American elected to statewide office after former Secretary of State and civil rights leader Vel Phillips, noted challenges African-Americans are facing in Wisconsin, including income inequality, though he expressed optimism going forward.

“A lot of my colleagues in the Legislature don’t necessarily have to experience or hear from constituents who share the concerns of the Black Caucus, so a lot of things get ignored,” he said. “But I still think that progress is being made, because if you look at the battle of public ideas we’re winning it.”

At the event this morning were Wisconsin Legislative Black Caucus Chair Rep. David Crowley, D-Milwaukee; Caucus Vice-Chair Rep. LaKeshia Myers, D-Milwaukee; and Caucus Treasurer Rep. Kalan Haywood, D-Milwaukee, among others.

Haywood thanked Phillips, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr., who he said cleared the path for him to join the Legislature this session.

“They opened the door wide for me to come in,” said Haywood, who at 19 is the second youngest person ever elected to the Legislature. “Now it’s my job to open the door even wider.”

Members of the caucus also hosted an event this afternoon at the state Capitol.

— By Royce Podeszwa, 

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