November 9, 2007

Agents for Change

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

As a young girl, I had the fortune of living not far from former Milwaukee Mayor Marvin Pratt.  At the time, he was Alderman Pratt, one of just a few African-American elected officials in the city.  To me, though, he was so much more.  He wasn’t just a politician, but a true public servant.  Marvin represented a “different way of thinking”, another option and an opportunity for change.

Many peers of my youth had no idea about what they wanted to be when they grew up.  We had all the stock answers, though…policeman, fireman, movie star, professional athlete.  However, none of us really ever thought about being the alderman, let alone understood what the common council presidency was.  Few of us could even articulate the difference between a State Senator and the Senators that represent us in Congress.

Bottom line: when I was growing up, many children of color didn’t know that they had political careers as a choice.  By comparison, I am awed by my son, Isaiah, who walks through the State Capitol with confidence and comfort.  It is awesome to witness young children visit my Senate office and take pictures sitting behind my desk.  Barely able to see over my desk, these students are clearly able to see that they have options.

Things have changed.  The demographics of politics are ever shifting, whether in race, ethnicity, gender, or age.  In particular, young people with tremendous ideas are getting involved.  Recently in Detroit, our nation saw Kwame Kilpatrick become one of the youngest mayors in US history.  Barriers continue to be removed as youth assert themselves in the political landscape and change the face of American politics.

It is with that understanding that I continually strive to educate and inform community members about the political opportunities available for youth, locally and nationally.  The Senate Scholars Program and Presidential Classroom are examples of such opportunities.  These programs give high school students an opportunity to involve themselves in government on a first-hand basis.  Both programs allow students an ability to learn about a variety of professions that comprise our governmental system.  Most important, young people are inspired to rethink, review, and respond differently to the world around them.  The programs empower our children to become leaders and effective change agents on behalf of a greater good.  Three past Senate Scholars, for example, now work in the Capitol.

I would encourage students, schools and guidance counselors to contact my office to obtain more information on these programs.  And, while programs like Presidential Classroom and Senate Scholars are incredible opportunities, they are only a small part of a larger mission to create options for youth and new visions for growth.  That mission requires each of us to dream big dreams for our children, and to expose them to different avenues to success and help them plan for a future that is brighter than they imagined.  Thank you Marvin for being my agent of change and a vision for what public service means.