Madison has seen an explosion of people of color elected to political offices over the last 5-6 years after having very few in office – whether it be Common Council, School Board, or the Dane County Board – throughout its history the decades before. One group, Adelante Madison, has made it their mission to diversify Madison’s political representation.
“Representation is a big deal. In the past, it was a world that did not belong to us,” Gloria Reyes, co-founder of Adelante Madison, tells Madison365. “It was really rare that anybody would come to us and say, ‘You should run for elected office …. And here’s how you do it!’
“Back in the day, we would have one or two people of color on the council or school board or Dane County Board,” she adds. “To now have both the Madison Common Council and the Madison School Board represented by a majority of people of color … that’s amazing. That shows the progress we have made.”
Those successes will be celebrated at the Adelante “Celebration of Representation,” which will take place tonight at the Robina Courtyard on Madison’s east side. The event will be a chance to celebrate and honor elected officials representing the local communities in Dane County. The guest of honor will be Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, Wisconsin’s first African-American lieutenant governor, who is also a candidate to represent Wisconsin for the United States Senate.
“This celebration tonight is about community. It’s about representation,” Reyes says. “We’re celebrating Adelante’s progress but also celebrating what is to come. What’s next for Adelante? I’d really like to see us work with the Democratic Party to expand throughout Wisconsin starting with Dane County and all of the cities surrounding Madison.”
This will be the second year for the event, which took a one-year pause in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The first event was a great event where we invited current elected officials and potential candidates to give them a chance to learn more about Adelante and the services that we provide,” Reyes says. “This year, it is a very exciting time. Things have significantly changed. The demographics have changed on the City Council and School Board. We are really looking to continue to recruit people of color to run for elected positions. This is a way to celebrate those who have run for public office, who are currently elected and the work they do … and the work that Adelante does to help people navigate running for elected office.”
Adelante Madison offers a full range of support for candidates including networking opportunities, training on forming a campaign committee, messaging, and the practicalities of running a successful campaign.
“We’ve been trying to build the capacity within our communities of color to have people learn how to become campaign managers and learn how to be a treasurer and learn how to run a campaign,” Reyes says. “We want to have a pool of people of color ready for when somebody does want to run for office. Campaign managers are really hard to find. We are trying to build up campaign managers of color.
“We have had significant progress in developing partnerships in our community with Wisconsin Democrat Party, Dane Dems and other associations who are really interested in investing in and supporting Adelante and really support people of color,” Reyes adds. “It’s a really exciting time for us.”
When Reyes entered the Madison Metropolitan School District school board race a few years back, she found a whole new world and environment that she says was “very exclusive to people like us.”
“Navigating your nomination papers, how to build your kitchen cabinet, who should be involved – there are so many details that people just don’t tell you unless you know somebody,” she says. “So after I won the election, I really felt like we needed to provide a space for people of color to help support them and to wrap ourselves around them while they are running for public office and providing the information they need.”
Reyes, who was the Madison school board’s first-ever Latina member, founded Adelante at the end of 2018 to support and train candidates of color in the Madison area who have shown a prior commitment to addressing issues that impact their diverse communities.
“It’s all about learning the details and the intricacies of running for political office – the do’s and don’ts. It’s about hosting trainings, and providing support and referrals to people who can help support them and serve on their kitchen cabinets,” she adds.
Adelante Madison is currently represented by more than 40 elected and appointed immigrant, Black, Native, Chicanx, Boricua, Latinx, South Asian, Asian American and Muslim community members.
“We’ve come a long way. I believe the majority of elected officials of color [in Dane County] are Adelante-trained. What’s great is that we have candidates of color who have different perspectives on issues. We’re not all going to agree, but the important thing is to have representation at the table when we are making decisions that impact our very own communities,” Reyes says. “It’s so important to have that voice … a voice that we haven’t had in so many years.
“So tonight is all about celebrating that … celebrating our community and celebrating those people who supported Adelante and supported those candidates,” Reyes adds. “That includes people who are not of color, but are really invested in people of color and want our voices to be elevated in making important decisions.”
Tonight’s Adelante Celebration of Representation will also provide information on the 2022 election trainings, Adelante Madison membership, and will announce a resource list initiative that will be made available to campaigns and candidates.
“We encourage people who are interested in running for office to come on and in and stop by tonight and meet us and ask us some questions,” Reyes says. “The earlier that you decided that you want to run for an elected position, the better.”