MADISON, WI (Spectrum News WI) — Monday was the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day with an African-American Lieutenant Governor.
Mandella Barnes spoke around the state at MLK celebration events. He started the day in Milwaukee, then spoke in Madison before he went to Beloit.
Barnes said he spoke at the University of Wisconsin Madison campus in part to address students.
“I'm excited to speak to students because now is a time we're in a critical moment in this state and this country people are looking for ways to make a difference and looking to see how they can be inspired to lead the next generation of change,” Barnes said before his speech.
Barnes is just the second African-American elected to a state-wide office in Wisconsin. However, he says it's not just about reaching milestones.
“It's about more than making history, it's about making a difference ultimately it's about how can we work to improving the lives of people all across this state,” Barnes said.
Barnes got a standing ovation from the full ballroom in Madison when he was introduced. He spoke for more than 25 minutes and touched on several issues.
“In Wisconsin we are home to some of the worst racial disparities in the entire country,” Barnes told the crowd.
Barnes talked about high wage gaps and difficulties black children face growing up that other's don't in Wisconsin.
“A person's zip code should never determine their destiny,” Barnes said.
Barnes promised addressing these issues would be a priority for his office and the governor's office. He also said one of his top priorities will be environmental impacts from climate change.
“Impact that is often felt 10 times worse in communities of color, whether it be the chemicals or the air that we breathe in our neighborhoods or lead contaminated water that our children drink, no person's health and safety bear the burdens of people's ignorance and greed,” he said.
Barnes also spoke on women's and rural access to healthcare, education, and criminal justice reform.
He ended by talking about Dr. King and the need to serve in his legacy.
“Honor the life and legacy of Dr. King, make sure that in this new year that we resolve to be involved,” Barnes said.