By Ariele Vaccaro
In a spirit similar to that of the Black Lives Matter movement, several local business and political leaders are coming together to encourage people of color to vote smart this election year.
The group, called Black Votes Matter, convened for the first time this past Tuesday evening at the Skybox Sports Bar to ask eligible Black voters to cast their ballots, and cast them wisely.
There, the group also encouraged attendees to help the politicians they hope to elect by donating to their campaigns.
The grassroots organization isn’t just addressing voter turnout and educated voting, though.
The effort is four pronged, aiming to improve public policy, education, business, and increase opportunities for residents to enjoy “edutainment” in their city.
In addition, Black Votes Matter plans to create an agenda which they will present to public officials on the city, county, and state levels.
Spearheading the effort are Universal Companies CEO Rahim Islam, Urban Media CEO Jerrel Jones, Milwaukee businessman Mark Wade, and a number of other notable figures.
City lawmakers are getting involved too. Four have already pledged to become a part of Black Votes Matter, including Ald. Willie Wade, Ald. Milele Coggs, Ald. Ashanti Hamilton, and Ald. Russell Stamper.
All four attended the first Black Votes Matter event on Tuesday.
Coggs wants to see more African-Americans taking interest in the political process by voting for candidates with their best interest in mind.
“If someone’s going to be making laws, making decisions about laws that affect your life, you should have some say-so in who those people are,” said Coggs.
The night began with a libation ceremony lead by County Supervisor Supreme Moore-Omokunde.
Rahim Islam of Universal Companies then took the podium to outline the initiatives Black Votes Matters plans to take over the course of the next four months.
To help vitalize Milwaukee Black businesses, Islam said the group plans create a business council lead by Founder of Generation Growth Capital Cory Nettles.
Black Votes Matter will also reach out to local leaders in education such as Milwaukee Public School Board President Michael Bonds and Board Member Wendell Harris.
“I think it became very clear that Black lives will never matter until Black votes matter,” said Islam. “We’ve done okay in the political realm, but not to the level that is necessary to move the needle.”
Islam emphasized what he called “functional unity”, in which Milwaukee residents set aside differences for a common goal.
Black Votes Matters agenda is currently being drafted, but will be finished in the near future.
In the meantime, the group will continue to synthesize their efforts, organize the community, and advocate for smart voting.
“Leadership is important, but leadership is only as powerful as the people who support them,” said Coggs.