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My Hero, Vel Phillips

March 12 – March 25, 2020
Praising the Past

vel phillips

Four decades ago, Vel Phillips made history as the first African-American elected statewide. She was also the first woman and first non-white candidate ever elected to serve as Wisconsin Secretary of State.

I’ll never forget the conversations I had with Vel. We used to talk about the racism and sexism she had to overcome as a Black woman running for higher office. But not for her trailblazing legacy, I wouldn't be serving as the first African-American lieutenant governor in Wisconsin's 172 year history.

This month especially, I’m inspired by the storied legacies of public servants who dedicated their lives to public service -- people like Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama, Vel Phillips, and, yes, my namesake Nelson Mandela.

Vel passed away just a few months before I made history in 2018, but I know she'd be proud to see me following in her footsteps. As we look ahead, I'll continue honoring her pioneering legacy by recommitting to the fight to make our country a fairer, more equitable place for all Americans, regardless of zip code. Thank you for everything you're doing to help build on the progress achieved by heroes like Vel Phillips. Onward to future victories.

Note:  Four states border Lake Michigan; three have Black lieutenant governors. In addition to Barnes in Wisconsin (6 percent Black), there is Juliana Stratton in Illinois (14 percent Black) and Garlin Gilchrist II in Michigan (1 percent Black). The forth state, Indiana (9 percent Black), has a Black attorney general. Illinois’ attorney general is also of African descent.

Of the 10 Black Senators in US History, three were from Illinois, Carol Braun, first Black female, Barack Obama, and Roland Burris.  Illinois has produced the nation’s only Black US President, Barack Obama - -all whom hail from Chicago’s South Side.

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