Power 2 Change: Councilman Aaron Bailey

Published: Sep. 3, 2020 at 9:50 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 3, 2020 at 10:35 PM CDT
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MANITOWOC, Wis. (WBAY) - As a community resource, WBAY-TV knows we need to do more to advance the conversation about race in Northeast Wisconsin.

This is the Power 2 Change.

Aaron Bailey recently made history in Manitowoc when he became the first Black councilperson for the city. He had been active with the Lakeshore’s United Visionaries (LUV), advocating for social justice and racial equity. The chance came up to fill a council seat when someone stepped down. Bailey sees it as a vital opportunity to represent Persons of Color and have difficult conversations about race.

“My name is Aaron Bailey. I’m originally from Virginia. I moved to Manitowoc through an internship with the Manitowoc Crane company. My stepfather was a welding instructor there, and he was like, ‘You know, you’re not doing anything with your life right now, why don’t you come up here and get a skill?’ You know, versus working at fast food restaurants at that age—I was like 17, 18. And I was like, why not? So I ended up coming to Wisconsin around 16, 17 years of age, and I stayed here ever since. A person like myself, I just want to know where you are coming from. And I can respect that. Or I can respect you for being honest. And I can choose how I want to interact with you. So usually when I inquire with somebody or meet somebody who’s racist or has racist views, I don’t mind hearing where they got those ideas from, and just kind of deal with them in that way. You know, ‘I like you, I don’t like you.’

“Yeah. I was approached by a lot of people in the community. I was already involved in community organizations and just doing a lot of work there and just advocating for people without a voice. And people in politics were like, ‘Hey, this is a great opportunity for you to go to the next step and do something more for your community.’ You know, I was kinda like, ‘No, that’s not my thing, I like to deal (with) people.’ But as I sat with more constituents, and they talked to me more about, ‘This is not just about you, what you feel about, but also giving other people opportunities to see themselves in a different light.’ So I had to look at myself and say, no, this isn’t about me, not about my comfort level, it’s about an opportunity that will allow other people to see themselves in a different light, so I took it, and…(laughs) here I am.

“That took some time. That took some time to really sink in. For me, I really felt like it was business as usual. I’m really good and open with being with the public, so that wasn’t an issue. So when the title came up -- ’the first Black person,’ and it comes up a lot -- then it started to sink in that I’m not only representing myself but I’m representing a culture. I’m representing a genre of people that you can’t see. And my every move, my every response, my everything is translated to them as well. That is a lot of pressure. But what l learned to do is say as long as I am true to myself, and true to who I have been thus far, I won’t go wrong. There’s a lot of people that won’t bat an eye to tear you down, so when I interact with those people, I finally get to meet those people, which is typically online only. I give them a platform to come talk with me. You know, I don’t have an issue with that. I’m never going to disrespect anybody, but I want people to come and feel free to say whatever they want to say and make their points. But they have to be fair. They at least have to have some kind of logic, common sense. You know what I mean? Just don’t go up there and just be a destroyer. We’re trying to build here. So I just ask people to be mindful of what you are trying to destroy versus what you are trying to build.

“I have young kids come up to me and say, ‘You inspired me.’ And that’s like ‘Me? Inspired you?’ That’s like yeah, you think about it, but when you see it, it’s different, so, they’re like, ‘You inspired me to go back to school, to do this.’ And I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s... I don’t want to cry but that’s one of those moments like, man, I’m actually making a difference.’”

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