Say Something Real
The State Capitol Has Lost A True Force
By Michelle Bryant
An open letter to former Wisconsin State Senator Lena C. Taylor.
Some are called, some are chosen, some show up and some show out. I laugh as I pen those words and think about the many policy battles waged, legislative wars fought, and constituent concerns that you tackled. Memories of you sitting in committee, going head to head with your colleagues, and at times, leaving the building bruised and battered, evoke a smile. You gave as good as you got and no one could deny that you were a formidable opponent, strong ally, and definitive force in the Wisconsin State Legislature.
I’ve known you since college. We were young, brash, and believed we could change the world. From this side of the globe, we fought to end apartheid and we worked to make our own corner of the world better. Hard-headed and strong-willed, we never doubted that we could make a difference.
I had no idea that later we would work together, for nearly 18 years. In that time, you modeled an example of tenacity in public service that was simply unrivaled. You gave voice to the concerns of those you represented and passed laws to improve the conditions of our communities. You were intentional in providing employment opportunities to underrepresented groups, and trained more senior level managers, policy directors, and legislative staff of color than anyone. As you always said, iron sharpens iron.
You showed up, invited or otherwise, for every meeting, march, forum, school visit, company tour, and church service that you could attend. A retirement party or baby shower commanded as much attention as a legislative conference. You answered calls from around the country to support issues and organizations, as easily as you responded to concerns across Wisconsin.
I watched as you prioritized others, barely slept and always worked to connect resources and people. You became the people’s Senator and outgrew the boundaries of your district. I respected your willingness to advocate for incarcerated citizens and work to reform the justice system. You were brilliant on the Committee on Joint Finance and your speeches during floor sessions were often inspiring. You made urban agriculture real, HBCU College Fairs happen, and Black Advocacy Day at the Capitol a community affair.
To be clear though, you were not perfect. You ruffled feathers, tapped danced on nerves, and had biting retorts. While others rebuffed, I understood that your passion and drive to deliver meaningful change was always first. You demanded respect for yourself and for Milwaukee. Now that you have transitioned to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, I don’t think that many fully understand what your presence meant in the Capitol. But as they say, you don’t miss your water until your well runs dry. I wish you well and thank you for your years of service, Judge Lena C. Taylor!