“I’m not satisfied.”: Black community leaders reflect on racial justice progress one year later

Updated: May. 31, 2021 at 1:09 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -Black community leaders said progress toward justice and equality is moving along, but work still needs to be done.

Sunday marked one year since unrest erupted in downtown Madison following George Floyd’s death. State Street filled with hundreds of demonstrators demanding justice and equality in the Black community.

Ayomi Obuseh, Madison activist, took a trip back in time through images captured in the streets of Madison one year ago.

“I remember that night,” Obuseh said as she looked through photos. “I’m getting teary-eyed.”

There were days of protests reflecting centuries of injustice.

“I wasn’t trying to be one of the organizers. You just know when you’re supposed to be somewhere,” Obuseh said one year ago in an NBC15 interview. “The only thing I have at the end of the day is my voice until it’s gone, so I’m going to use it.”

One year ago, Obuseh was at the frontlines of the demonstrations. The voices of activists sparked a wave of momentum.

“We’re still not where we thought we would be,” Obuseh said. “Although we did accomplish a lot at a local level, I think that the frustration that we have right now is more with our state capitol and with our state legislators.”

Obuseh said there’s a visible impact of the protests.

She cited diversity on school boards and councils in Dane County for the first time in history. A Madison Police Civilian Oversight board was created for the community. MPD named Shon Barnes the third Black police chief in Madison. Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett was also the first black man to hold the role.

But she added, state legislation is lacking.

“The Hands Up Act, Breonna’s law, that’s something that we need here in Madison. We saw so much pushback when we were trying to talk to people about it,” she said. “I will never be satisfied living in a society where it was made to keep me oppressed.”

Community leaders said the progress is steady, but not enough.

“I’m not satisfied with the progress we made,” Kaleem Caire, One City Schools CEO and founder. “It’s long overdue. We all should be impatient. This is a 400 year struggle.”

Caire said people of color having a seat at the table is a step in the right direction.

“Now we have to see those folks work together and to make policy happen that’s going to truly help support people moving forward,” he said.

He credits the youth for taking charge and a stand for equality.

“I’m encouraged. I love seeing young people out there. It gives me a sense that it won’t stop with us,” Caire said. “Fear doesn’t prevent them from moving forward. It actually is an acceleration. It’s like striking a match and they just run toward it.”

Obuseh said the desire for change is a fire that won’t burn out.

“The fire is never dead for this cause,” she said. “We’ve been doing this for decades, but it’s a blaze that’s going strong.”

Both community leaders agreed. In order to reach justice, the answer lies in passing more state legislation that protects Black lives and putting policies in place to dismantle systemic racism and inequality.

correction: An earlier version of this story described Shon Barnes as the first Black police chief in Madison history. He is the third. The story has been corrected to note that.

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