MILWAUKEE — While Juneteenth is a celebration commemorating the end of slavery in our country, for U.S. Representative Gwen Moore, it’s also a reminder of how much work still needs to be done.
“Juneteenth is always a very sobering event for me,” Moore said. “You think about Juneteenth and African Americans in our area, one in four kids in our city is poor. That bothers me.”
Moore is a mother of three, a grandmother and a great grandmother.
“I talk to my kids and grandchildren about the responsibility that being ‘free’ brings,” Moore said. “It’s our responsibility to take that freedom very seriously. To make sure that our kids get the educational opportunities they need.”
Moore was raised on Milwaukee’s north side. She was the eighth of nine kids. Her dad was a factory worker and mom a public school teacher.
“I was someone who always had a passion for others, a spirit of service, and an urge to put my best foot forward,” she said.
But she always felt the added pressure growing up black during the Civil Rights Movement.
“To be the smartest one, to be the best one in order to get an opportunity, and we're hoping that these times have shifted in a way that we can level the playing field,” Moore said.
Moore became the first Black woman elected to the upper chamber of the Wisconsin Legislature, and the first Black woman to represent Wisconsin in Congress. She has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 15 years now.
“I was poor, a poor single mother of three, and people chose me,” Moore said. “I think they chose me because they knew I would have the lived experience and empathy to relate to their needs. I’m honored they’ve kept choosing me the years.”
Moore’s first public leadership role came much earlier at North Division High School.
“My classmates - they pushed me, almost forced me to run for president of the student council in high school,” she said. “They wanted me to speak for us because, you know, we needed so many things. Our school was so run down. We protested for a better facility. We walked out of our classes and protested for black history. I marched with Father Groppi and Vel Phillips, so at a very young age, I was an activist and my sole urge to move into public service continued.”
That urge has not wavered. Especially, Moore says, with racism still a reality.
“This is something that is a clear and present danger to our democracy and our beloved community and our beloved way of life,” she said.
While she works to bring change to Washington, Milwaukee is her home and inspiration.
“Having the lived experience, seeing what’s going on in my community, really keeps me grounded,” Moore said. “Milwaukee is a place I just don’t ever want to leave.”
On this Juneteenth Day, she joins the Milwaukee community in honoring the sacrifice and contributions of those who came before us, and the fight still continuing today.