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2021 “Delta Day” at the State Capitol a day of advocacy for voting rights, health equity, criminal justice reform and more

Presenters and special guests for 2021 "Delta Day" included (Clockwise from top left) State Rep. Shelia Stubbs, YWCA CEO Vanessa McDowell, State Rep. Kalan Haywood, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Dallet

Throughout the United States, “Delta Days” is an annual legislative conference to increase Delta Sigma Theta sorority members’ involvement in the national public policy-making process that includes legislative briefings, issue forums, and developing advocacy skills. The Madison Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. are regularly in attendance at this annual event as well as Deltas from throughout the state as the Wisconsin State Capitol becomes a sea of red for “Delta Day” every spring. This year, however, “Delta Day” was a virtual event.

“This was our first Delta Day at the State Capitol virtual event,” Angela Arrington, the Wisconsin State Social Action Coordinator, tells Madison365. “We’ve been holding Delta Days for over 25 years at the State Capitol and we did not want the opportunity to pass during the pandemic because there are some different issues that are happening that are very important.”

 Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, State Rep. Shelia Stubbs (D-Madison), and State Rep. Kalan Haywood (D-Milwaukee) all spoke at the event and/or gave presentations. The special guest of the event was Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Dallet.

“It was really great to have the current Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Dallet willing to come and visit with us,” Arrington says. “She talked extensively about the role of the judiciary and how important it is that people know and understand what they do. It was a great opportunity for us to talk with her and to understand better the very important role of the court, the judges, etc.”

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated is a sisterhood of predominantly Black, college-educated women. The theme of their April 9 “Delta Day” event was “Women Making Waves in the New Frontier of Advocacy.”  

“It was a good feel. We were on a virtual Zoom platform, but it took on a very special feel. It was great to have an opportunity to still be able to connect even though we were each in our own locations,” Arrington says. “We may not have been all in the same room like we normally are at the Capitol, but It still had a sisterly feel to it and we still felt really connected.”

Deltas from all around Wisconsin were in virtual attendance for this statewide event and able to hear YWCA Madison CEO Vanessa McDowell talk about homelessness, what people can do to help eradicate it and the work that YWCA Madison is doing with HUD in her workshop titled “Bold Advocacy on Criminal Justice Reform and Homelessness.” 

“The reason that we talked about this is because African American people, and people of color, in general, are disproportionately affected by homelessness,” Arrington says. 

State Rep. Stubbs, a fellow Delta and the first African-American to represent Dane County in the state Legislature, provided a presentation on the CROWN Act, of which she was the co-author of and the hair braiding act, of which she is the lead author.

“Both of these are really big about economic development for Black women. That’s why these two measures were being covered. The hair-braiding bill is a way for women of color – particularly women from the African diaspora – to make money,” Arrington says. “The hair-braiding bill is a form of economic development.

“The CROWN Act deals with rooting out discrimination because your hair is in braids or because your hair is in a natural hairstyle,” she adds. “We want to make sure that if you are wearing your hair that way that you’re not going to be targeted in the workplace.”

Wisconsin State Rep. Kalan Haywood, who was first elected to public office in 2018 at 19 years old, presented “The New Wave of Youth Advocacy.” Wisconsin State Social Action Co-Coordinator Stephanie Woodson, who is a graduating senior at UW-Madison and member of the Zeta Xi chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, facilitated the Youth Advocacy and CROWN Act/Hair Braiding Bill sessions. 

Other topics that were discussed include criminal justice reform and voting rights. 

“We are really focused in across the country on making sure our voting rights are protected and continue to advocate for fair policing,” Arrington says. 

Angela Arrington, Wisconsin State Social Action Coordinator

Advocacy Day was held earlier this week on April 26th and culminated Delta Days at the nation’s Capitol, Arrington says, where Deltas advocate on topics like ending voter suppression, supporting fair policing, health equity and more.  

“The Advocacy Day is something that every state does for Delta and part of our “National Delta Days” at the state capitol advocating on these important issues,” Arrington says.

In 1989, the National Social Action Commission instituted Delta Days in Washington D.C., but the Delta Sigma Thetas have been a public service organization that boldly confronts challenges of African Americans (and all Americans) from the beginning, participating in the women’s suffrage march in Washington in 1913 less than two months after they were chartered.

The Madison Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta are also part of the Vel Phillips Taskforce, a group working towards making civil rights hero Vel Phillips the first person of color honored with a statue at Wisconsin’s State Capitol.

“Vel Phillips was a member of Delta Sigma Theta. She had been a member for over 50 years. She was initiated into Delta Sigma Theta while she was a student at Howard University and she would go on to having a trailblazing life and a champion for civil rights and civil liberties of all people,” Arrington says. “She was a lady of so many firsts.

“We are here to be able to foster the statue being erected. That’s what we’re working on and it’s been a really great experience,” she adds. “We continue to not only raise money for the statue but to also raise money for our scholarships for underprivileged, underserved youth of color.”

Community service and social justice work are very important to the Deltas. In realizing its mission, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. provides an extensive array of public service initiatives through its Five-Point Programmatic Thrust of educational development, economic development, international awareness and involvement, physical and mental health and political awareness and involvement.

“There is so much that Deltas doing. We believe it is important to be involved in our communities,” Arrington says.