12 on Tuesday: Madison Alderman Maurice Cheeks

    Photo by Noah Willman

    1. Rank your Top 5 MCs. In no particular order: Jay-Z, Drake, Lacrae, Kendrick Lamar, Tupac 

    2. Which motivates you more: doubters or supporters? This has changed during different phases in my life. These days, the answer is definitely supporters. 

    3. Do you prefer being called Black or African American? I remember the first time I had to fill in a bubble to declare my race on a standardized form. I was maybe 6 or 7 years old. As a little bi-racial kid, I asked the teacher what to do in this predicament. My teacher very politely told me that the instructions said to choose one race and check that box. Looking back, that was probably the moment when I realized labels like these were largely socially constructed, and I could choose to not worry too much about them. 

    4. What three leaders in Madison under 50 have impressed you the most? Michael Johnson of the Boys and Girls Club comes to mind right away. Since moving to Madison five years ago, his success as a fund-raiser, an executive, and as a champion for youth in this city are all impressive. I admire the fact that there is no mistaking what his mission is and what makes him tick. 

    State Representative Melissa Sargent is an impressive example to me of someone who has a healthy reverence for the role of a public servant, and through her actions consistently dignifies the title of “politician”. 

    Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings might be on the borderline for the age limit of this question… but her genius, self-confidence, and commitment to speaking the truth are remarkable. It is incredibly impressive to me how many people I’ve met in this city who credit her for significantly expanding their perspective in a way that has altered their life or career. 

    5. What’s the biggest stumbling block in Madison to turning the corner on our racial disparities? Silos. I have no doubt that there is a great deal of support for the idea of closing the disparities gaps throughout our community. There are a tremendous number of organizations making various efforts to be a part of the solution to helping Madison live up to our values. The greatest hurdle to meaningful change is simply getting agreement on a few areas to focus on, and then keeping track of who is accountable for doing what. If the university, the city, the county, the schools, the private sector, the non-profits, and the faith community were able to break down silos, share data, and establish a few measurable goals to be publicly accountable for… it would only be a matter of time before the rest of the nation was looking to learn from Madison as the national leader for closing the opportunity gap. This is how we are going to create a city where everyone feels welcome and able to thrive. 

    6. How does your faith influence your life? My faith influences my life in most all ways. Interestingly, I’ve recently realized that the friendships that I’ve made through church are an exceedingly racially, educationally, economically and generationally diverse group of friends. Having the opportunity to learn from such a wide variety of people is a tremendous blessing.

    7. What are your top three priorities at this point in your life? My wife and I are due to have our first child in January, so my top priority in life at the moment is preparing to be a great father. You’ll have to ask me again in 2016 how being a dad has impacted all of the rest of my priorities.

    8. If I ask your wife about the “real” you what would she say are your best and worst attributes? My wife would definitely tell you that I’m more silly than people realize. She would say that one of my best qualities is that I manage stressful situations well, and one of my most annoying attributes is that I’m loud and energetic in the morning when she feels that the house should be quiet. 

    9. What are three things you do to relax? Since we are keeping it real, the truth is that I don’t successfully make much time for relaxing hobbies these days. Being a leader on the City Council is effectively a second full time job. I enjoy cooking, and do that a couple times a week, and I cherish the free time that I spend with my wife. 

    10. There are numerous ways to serve the community. Why did you choose politics to serve? Before local politics I was volunteering as an algebra tutor at Memorial High School and I served on the board of Omega School, which is a local school that helps Madison area adults attain GEDs. I certainly agree that there are plenty of ways to meaningfully serve a community. I chose to run for office, at least partially, because of the structural opportunities for improvement that I saw while volunteering in the schools. I worked with young people whose families struggled with housing insecurity, whose one-way bus commutes to school were upwards of an hour, and who didn’t have easy access to healthy food. Many of them didn’t know adults in their communities with good jobs, and didn’t see people who looked like them in positions of leadership or authority.  The fact that they were struggling in school was largely a symptom of greater societal challenges that they faced, which I believe politics can make a major impact on. So I’m excited to do this work because I’m passionate about our opportunity to strengthen Madison for today’s residents, as well as future generations of residents. 

    11. What role can the Government in the City of Madison play in dealing with our inclusion issues? What our city government must do is lead by example as an inclusive organization. One small, yet specific example of this was the Ban the Box initiative that I led. This changed Madison’s hiring practice to make it more inclusive, and serves as a model for the private sector. More broadly, I want to see our city support a comprehensive and sustainable approach to economic growth that promotes upward mobility within our community.

    12. How can we increase the number of people of color going into high tech businesses? Business leaders at some of the most innovative companies in the world are asking themselves this same question. Addressing this is important not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because diverse companies are demonstrated to be more profitable and more resilient. There are two things that I strongly encourage. First, we need to see hiring practices change. When hiring for a position, the desire to look for the person who appears to be best for that role seems reasonable. Unfortunately the problem with identifying the best person is that our bias as hiring managers tends to cause us to spot folks who are most similar to ourselves. Instead we must seek out people who have diverse skills and capabilities and who would be the best addition to the team. Second, it is smart to be investing in career training programs that create a pipeline for new hires. Programs like the YWCA’s YWeb Career Academy is a great model for companies to invest in the training of diverse youth that are underrepresented in the current workforce, yet so readily available to be the future of our workforce.