As April 4th election day approaches and campaigns ramp up to energize voters, one school board candidate in the city of Cambridge, 25 minutes east of Madison, is hoping to give back to his community through his experience and new perspectives. Jesús M. Rivera grew up in Sheboygan and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in the communications field in UW-Milwaukee. His journey from working in the public information office for the Milwaukee Police Department took a turn towards teaching when he was offered a position as a teaching assistant during his time as a graduate student at UW-Milwaukee.
“Once I started doing it, I fell in love with it. We were teaching during COVID, so we were all virtual. Once we got in person, I was like, ‘This is it for me. I love it.’ I love the interaction and seeing people grow,” Rivera said, reflecting on how public speaking can be especially intimidating for younger undergraduates.
“It’s really rewarding to work with students once they figure out that they can get over this major anxiety in their life, and they can apply that to other areas of their life, too.”
Rivera and his husband, Dr. Mitch Thomas, an emergency veterinarian in Madison, came upon Cambridge when they relocated around the Madison area for work. While they were at first unsure of how the reception of an interracial gay couple would go in a small town, Rivera was happy to say that their experience so far has been “…so wonderful, and people have been so great in welcoming us in and helping.”
Investing back into the community is a large focus for Rivera, who spoke to the school board as being especially important for engaging in the local community. Rivera’s passion for education and teaching extends past his experience in Milwaukee, as he also teaches at UW-Madison, as well as online classes for UW-Parkside and Cardinal Stritch University. While Rivera may have made the move to Cambridge in July of 2022, he is certain that his passion, experience, and commitment will negate any nerves around the “newcomer” label.
“I’m an educator at heart,” said Rivera. “Teaching kids in different and diverse areas is something that I am sort of used to. Since I thought about running back in early December, I’ve been to every school board meeting, and I’ve been to every school board committee meeting. I’ve maybe missed one or two in there, but I’ve put my time and effort into it so I can hit the ground running if I were to win.”
The diversity of students Rivera has had as an educator so far has made an impact on him in how important advocacy is for all students. While there are often people to advocate for those who are the majority in the community, it can often be more difficult to find support as a student who does not hold that same majority identity. Rivera spoke about how his experiences as an openly gay Latino man have shown him how important it is to be an advocate, including advocating through combating intolerance.
“I think that students today, especially LGBTQIA+ students, are facing a lot of anti-LGBTQIA+ policies and discrimination. We see a lot of that action coming through school boards and members that are on school boards,” Rivera said, stressing the importance of students feeling safe, supported, and represented while also receiving a quality education.
“They need somebody out there to defend and protect their rights to have a safe and supportive environment to learn in. We know that these students, minorities and LGBTQIA+ students, face more bullying both verbally and physically.”
Early voting is currently happening and election day is less than a week a way — Tuesday, April 4th. Other candidates in the race include incumbents Tracy Smithback-Travis and Grace Leonard, along with Ann Nottestad and Scott Teuscher. Former candidate Jen Brown has withdrawn from the race.
Rivera was positive that with support from the community and a meaningful approach, his goals for serving as an advocate and uplifter can be accomplished through a role on the Cambridge School Board. While it would be monumental to have an openly gay member of the Cambridge School’s Board, Rivera again stressed advocating for all students and was happy to share an opportunity for people to come learn more about him in person.
“I have a meet and greet at Millie’s on W. Main Street from 7-10 a.m. on Thursday. We’re out knocking on doors, so we’ll be out and about, myself and campaign volunteers,” Rivera said. “I hope to bring a fresh, new perspective and studied perspective to the board. I’m ready to hit the ground running.”
Community members can meet Rivera in person on Thursday, March 30, at Millie’s Coffee & Eatery, located at 214 W Main St. in Cambridge, and learn more about his campaign by visiting his website here.