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Community Shares of Wisconsin’s 2019 Change-Makers

by Araceli Esparza, Bilingual Communications Director, Community Shares of Wisconsin

On September 19, Community Shares of Wisconsin (CSW) will celebrate the work of three incredible leaders working to build a better community for all.

CSW’s 2019 Community Change-Maker Awards Event honors people making a difference at Community Shares of Wisconsin member nonprofits—the same 70 organizations Willy Street Co-op shoppers support by saying “Yes” at the register through the Community CHIP® program. These nonprofits work to build safe and sustainable communities for all Wisconsin residents. 

The 2019 Community Change-Makers are: 

Talib Akbar, Nominated by MOSES-WISDOM of Madison—Winner of the Linda Sundberg Civil Rights Defender Award

Ginger Baier, Nominated by OutReach—Winner of the Liesl Blockstein Community Leadership Award

Ruth Schmidt, Nominated by Wisconsin Early Childhood Association—Winner of the Sally Sunde Family Advocate Award

“The Change-Maker awards honor some of the most impactful leaders in our community, and this year’s winners exemplify that,” said CSW Executive Director Cheri Dubiel. “They are not only making a difference in people’s lives; they are reshaping entire institutions to foster lasting change.” 

Tragedies turned into Social Change

“It made me strong… (but) I feel like my best friend is loneliness. Being by myself—I’m just used to being alone,” Talib Akbar says. This strength is what he drew from while confined in a cell the size of a parking stall.  There he developed a creative and innovative plan that would later impact the people of Wisconsin and how they viewed solitary confinement.

When some of us would have given up, Talib took what he learned in a paralegal course in prison and began working to help other inmates make requests for transfers and call attention to the abuse at the hands of the prison officials.

Akbar spent a significant time in solitary confinement, anywhere from 60 days to 10 months at a time. In his quest to educate the public about solitary confinement and the damage it does to human beings, Akbar, along with students from Edgewood College and Reverend Jerry Hancock, decided to build a replica of a solitary confinement cell. Talib’s cell replica traveled throughout Madison and the state of Wisconsin. Many people have been shocked, saddened, and appalled when they spend time in the cell. 

When you talk to Akbar you get a sense of speaking to someone who has a deep understanding of commitment to his community. “I’m talkative and love to talk with people! My work in the community is about talking to people, when they say something it hits home with me and we keep talking. I just open up!” 

In the spirit of community, he along with others wrote a play called “Like an Animal in a Cage” about solitary confinement. He directed the play, which featured many formerly incarcerated actors who have experienced the horror of solitary confinement. 

 “Since returning home, Talib Akbar has worked tirelessly to end the torture and inhumane treatment of solitary confinement in our jail and prison system.” Said Rachel Kincade, his nominator from MOSES.

Change Starts with Being Who You Are 

When you speak to Ginger Baier you feel like you are talking to a Transgender historian, “I am a proud, out, transgender woman. That is part of my style—I’m not afraid to share my story and my style is that I am open.” For Ginger, change begins with being yourself.

“I’m a product of the ’60s. Demonstrating in the streets is nothing new for me. When Walker got elected, I was active during the Act 10 protests and worked in the Oregon School District,” she says. Ginger’s transgender advocacy work began after retirement.

In her role as the Transgender Health Advocate at OutReach LGBT Community Center, Ginger has established a fund to help transgender people experiencing homelessness with rent eviction prevention. Ginger has also been a leader of the Madison Area Transgender Association (MATA) for a decade. 

Ginger leads statewide Transgender 101 workshops, which teach people about the importance of pronouns, and educate people about transgender culture and history. 

“We have made good progress in health care and safety for trans people. Two things we need to change: our problems with race and homelessness,” said Ginger about what things she would like us to address as a city. 

Her testimony in 2018 during committee debate on the Employment Standardization Act contributed to the committee rewriting the proposed law so it did not invalidate all the city and county laws in Wisconsin that currently protect transgender people.

“As a transgender person, our liberties are under attack daily; Ginger stands up and defends our civil rights always. She is greatly deserving of this award,” says nominator Steve Starkey, Executive Director, OutReach LGBT Community Center.

From Vision to Reality

It’s not hard for Ruth Schmidt to describe her vision for Madison: “[A city] where every child born in Dane county would have access to daycare from a trained and educated childcare provider who is passionate about working with young children. We need a system of high quality and affordable childcare, for all parents, regardless of the zip code you live in or the color of your skin. We should be able to pay for childcare and not break the bank. Childcare providers should be able to make a good living being a childcare provider.”

For over 15 years, Ruth has been committed to changing the salary disparities of childcare providers in Madison. As the Executive Director of Wisconsin Early Childhood Association, Ruth oversees statewide federally funded programs such as T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Wisconsin Scholarship Program, REWARD Stipend Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. 

The childcare industry is almost exclusively made up of women and, as Ruth explained, this work is often fundamental in the development of our society. She has a deep understanding of the intersectionality of human development, household economics and the need for quality childcare. “The hard part is that until there is a demand to do something differently, we will continue to take advantage of the childcare workforce,” says Ruth. 

She is a leading voice on both statewide and national levels for strengthening the childhood education workforce through policy and system improvement. 

Although, Ruth Schmidt’s work centers around our youngest citizens, she advocates for them with the respect of any full-grown adult.

“Please join us in honoring and celebrating Ruth’s tireless leadership, commitment, and advocacy on behalf of the early care and education professionals that devote their lives to the  care  and education of  our state’s youngest children and future workforce,” said Robin Fox, Ph. D board President of the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association and her nominator.

Learn more about these community leaders and others making a difference by attending CSW’s 2019 Community Change-Maker Awards Event on Thursday, September 19, 5:00pm-7:00pm. at Union South. CSW will also honor 24 Backyard Hero Award Winners for their volunteer work at Community Shares’ member nonprofits. The event is presented by NARAL with part of the proceeds supporting the work of Community Shares of Wisconsin and its members. In addition, each Change-Maker Award winner receives $1,000 to direct to the nonprofit of their choice. For more information and tickets visit: communityshares2019.eventbrite.com/ or call 608-256-1066.