“I think what 2020 has brought is this triple pandemic of COVID-19, social injustice and economic insecurity like we haven’t seen in a while. And there is this energy and desire for change and a knowingness among our entire community that it is time for a change … but not knowing how to get there,” says Brandi Grayson, the CEO of Urban Triage, Inc. “If we want to get there, we have to have the right folks in there. It’s time to pass the baton for innovation. We’re so used to enrolling those who are the masters of the systems to do the work without considering that they are the masters of a broken system. So we just need to practice creating the opportunity to think outside the box.”
Grayson announced last week that she was running for alder for District 14 on Madison’s south side noting that she wants “to continue to work hard to ensure that all Madisonians have a chance to succeed.”
“The reason that I decided to jump in right now is that we need leadership in the south district. We haven’t had leadership in years. And we need folks who are rooting for our community and advocating and creating policies that reflect the needs of the south side,” Grayson tells Madison365. “So, that’s why I’m jumping in.
“It’s the perfect time and I have amazing supporters. The reason why I’ve been able to move so quickly and so impactfully and effectively is because of the supporters – my families, my volunteers, our advocates. They just make the work doable,” she adds. “I have a lot of support. It’s not just me. It’s not just Brandi coming to the table; it’s my whole squad coming to the table to serve District 14.”
Grayson is the co-founder of Young, Gifted and Black, a grassroots coalition of young leaders who have worked tirelessly to raise the voice of communities of color in Madison, and later founded Urban Triage, a nonprofit organization that addresses critical needs in the Madison community by way of transformative education and strategic partnerships. She is running against incumbent alder Sheri Carter who was elected Madison Common Council president in April of 2020.
District 14 takes up most of Madison’s south side and is part of one of the most racially diverse zip codes in the state.
“I think what distinguishes District 14 from other areas is the aggressive gentrification that is taking place on the south side that is pushing working-class people out. People can’t afford to live over here,” Grayson says. “I think that’s one of the largest issues which leads us to the conversation: how do we act in a radical way that supports the needs of the folks who have been a part of the southside district for generations?”
Grayson grew up on Madison’s south side where she has been a big part of the fabric of the community. She has lived there for all but about three years of her life.
“The south side is different from any other area in Madison because of its diversity and richness. I live in an area where there are African immigrants, Latino immigrants, born-and-raised-here Africans, born-and-raised-here Latinos … we have southeast Asian people across the street. We have Muslims,” Grayson says. “I’m a very personable person and I meet a lot of my neighbors and people are looking for not just affordable housing, but safety for their children.
“Oftentimes, we choose either or. We assume that in order to keep neighborhoods safe we have to build more luxury apartments and buildings. Things to generate property taxes and money. I get that part of capitalism,” she adds. “But we have to make sure that we are doing our due diligence to protect the culture of the south side and preserve it. It’s so rich in culture. If we’re not intentional about protecting it, it’s going to be gone.”
Another challenge facing south Madison, and all of Madison for that matter, is finding alternative spaces for youth.
“Youth and family empowerment programs that work and that are rooted in the needs of the community versus what we think is useful,” Grayson says. “We have a lot of community programs that are not meeting the needs of our community members so we have to be creative and we have to have relationships with the people who are the most impacted by the lack of programmings and support.
“I bring all of that with me. I have the social capital of our community members and constituents and I’ve built relationships and a reputation in Madison for standing in integrity – meaning that I say what I say and I mean what I say,” Grayson adds. “If there is room for adjustments, I’m always willing to adjust because there are plenty of things we don’t know that we don’t know until we know it. I’m always willing to honor my word by taking in more and new information and I think that’s required for the position of alder.”
It’s important, now more than ever, to build programming through relationships and strategic partnerships, Grayson says, giving the example of her organization, Urban Triage, which works to foster self-sufficiency through healing, community leadership and personal development in African-American families and provides community support, training, coaching and workshops centered in transformative justice, equity and transformative education.
“One of the things that people often say is that ‘we don’t have that in the budget.’ But we do! You’d be surprised how far a little can go if we have the right people at the table, the right partnerships and the right support and right resources. Urban Triage is a reflection of that – the work that I’ve been able to do in a year,” Grayson says. “I realized a long time ago that we don’t get anything done without our community. We are for the people and by the people and that is really what I’m rooted in. Not hearing from some people, but all of the people … because everyone matters.”
This year’s Common Council race is seeing a racial diversity in its candidates that Madison has never seen before. Grayson says that is important.
“One of the challenges that we face in Madison is how we talk about race and how we deal with race. We talk about race from a very simplistic view and lens. If you’re Black, you get it. But it’s not just race that matters, it’s lived experience and being able to provide a perspective that is only gained through experience,” she says. “When you understand what it means to be homeless and sleep on concrete and wake up on concrete, you have a different approach to policy. That’s very important.”
The COVID pandemic has really changed how politicians can get people out to vote. It used to be all about going door-to-door, neighborhood to neighborhood. Grayson says that she and her team have adapted to the new world of campaigning during Coronavirus.
“Fortunately, I know a lot of people. Normally, you would send a whole group of people door-knocking every single day, but we have a strategy where we are having people call people that they know,” Grayson says. “We have a huge digital presence and we will be ramping that up in the next week or two, as well. We will be getting groups together on Zoom where I can discuss my platform.
“A lot of times people focus on endorsements, but I have to get to my constituents because they are the voters,” she adds. “We may do some events where people can drive by. We are going to be creative like we always are.”
Grayson has already nabbed the impressive endorsements of State Rep. Francesca Hong of the 76th Assembly District, longtime Madison alder Shiva Bidar and former Wisconsin State Senate candidate Nada Elmikashfi. She has also gotten the endorsements of MMSD School Board members Nicki Vander Meulen, Savion Castro, Ananda Mirilli and Ali Muldrow and Madison alders Rebecca Kemble, Tag Evers, Keith Furman, Arvina Martin, Max Prestigiacamo, and Grant Foster
“I’m proud of the great endorsements and the support I have been getting,” Grayson says.
On Tuesday, the Grayson team announced the endorsements of Dane County board members Elena Hassl, Heidi Wegleitner, and Elizabeth Doyle and former Dane County Supervisors Leland Pan and Kyle Richmond.
In one of Grayson’s campaign ads, Grayson says, “Madison is like a small, big Pleasantville. And now if we can just get Pleasantville to include all people, then we would be right where we should be.”
“The biggest thing for me is that healthy communities are safe communities. We really need to focus on that,” Grayson says. “We need to make sure that people on the south side are not being left behind. We have to be intentional about creating affordable housing, healthy communities and wealth building for those who are often pushed out.”
For more information about Grayson’s campaign, click here.