Barnes pledges to be leader for all Wisconsinites in MLK Day speech

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes addresses a crowd at the Capitol during his inaugural address.

Mandela Barnes says he plans be a leader for all Wisconsinites as he works to promote racial equity, education and the environment in his tenure as the state’s first African-American lt. guv.

Barnes, the second African-American elected to statewide office after former Secretary of State and civil rights leader Vel Phillips, told a crowd at UW-Madison he sees the oath of office as “an oath of dedication to everybody, all people who call this place home.”

“People who have been forgotten, marginalized communities that are often left behind in the decision-making process, who don’t always have a seat at the table, so they wind up on me,” he said. “That’s what this election is about.”

The previous state rep was the keynote speaker at the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day event this afternoon. A separate celebration, held at the state Capitol, included Gov. Tony Evers and keynote speaker and award-winning writer, producer and film director Rita Coburn.

While Barnes highlighted his goals going forward, he also focused on the November election, which brought 19-year-old African American Dem Kalan Haywood, of Milwaukee, to the Assembly, and delivered Barnes to state office.

“Elections like that change not just what’s possible, but what’s expected,” Barnes said. “It changes the face of what people across the state, across the country, think about when they view and consider young, black men.”

Barnes also touched on an encounter between a group of teens from Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School and Nathan Phillips, a Native American and Vietnam veteran, at a Washington, D.C. march on Friday.

Video of the encounter quickly went viral, and many on social media criticized the teens for mocking Phillips. Backers of the students, though, point to additional video footage that shows Black Hebrew Israelite shouting at the teens, and Phillips then joining the situation.

Barnes in his remarks denounced “the audacity” of the high school students.

“Unfortunately, America can still be a mob of high school students wearing red hats, inspired by what they see in the nation’s highest office,” he said, as he highlighted what he sees as work that still needs to be accomplished. “The audacity of surrounding and taunting a Native American, Vietnam War Veteran, and I’ll say his name, Nathan Phillips, an American hero.”

– By Allyson Duffy, WisPolitics.com

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