Taylor Challenges Today’s Generation To Try and Make a Difference

Newly appointed circuit judge, former state senator appears at MATC for Women’s History Month

Mark Feldmann, feldmam1@matc.edu

April 01, 2024

Lena Taylor

If you know someone who wants to get educated, who wants to get trained and ready for work, send them to a technical college.

Lena Taylor Milwaukee native, former State Senator, current Wisconsin Circuit Court judge

MILWAUKEE – For more than two decades, Milwaukee native Lena Taylor represented nearly 180,000 residents of the state’s 4th Senate District, a section of northern Milwaukee County that includes the city of Glendale, the village of Shorewood, and parts of northern Wauwatosa and western Brown Deer.

Today, her public service has become much more personal. As a newly minted Wisconsin Circuit Court judge in Milwaukee County, Taylor metes out justice, advice and counsel to each defendant before her.

“I can talk to each of them, one at a time,” Taylor said on March 21 during an appearance at Milwaukee Area Technical College’s Downtown Milwaukee Campus to celebrate Women’s History Month. 

Sometimes she has ordered offenders to attend courses at MATC to get their high school diplomas. “If you know someone who wants to get educated, who wants to get trained and ready for work, send them to a technical college,” she said.

“But there’s no magic to solve the issues we have and the challenges we face,” she added. “We need to take the time to try or else it won’t get done.”

At her appearance at MATC, Taylor stressed the importance of trying. She spoke about the work that Ezekiel Gillespie, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Mary Church Terrell, Olympia Brown and Elizabeth Cady Stanton did to secure the right to vote for people of color in Wisconsin and the nation. Their accomplishments continue to resonate and impart valuable lessons, she said.

“From their examples, we learned to exercise our rights, to exercise our vote and take that as far as you need to — even to the Supreme Court if you have to,” she said. “We learned to speak up and organize. We learned persistence and to push back if needed. We learned to speak truth to power.”

“Being on the sidelines, staying quiet is not acceptable,” she added. “This requires you to be active.”

Today’s challenge is to convince a younger generation of men and women to enhance and expand the achievements of the past, Taylor said.

“We must make voting matter, make it connect to them. Find things that matter to them,” she said. “They have to understand that sometimes things don’t happen the first time. But that doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen.”

Taylor has made things happen in her hometown since graduating from Milwaukee Public Schools' Rufus King High School in 1984. She attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1990. She obtained her law degree from Southern Illinois University School of Law in 1993. 

After graduating from law school, Taylor worked as a public defender for more than two years, representing indigent citizens in need of legal services. In 1996, she opened Taylor and Associates Law Office on the north side of Milwaukee.

She was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2003 and then the Wisconsin State Senate in 2005. She was reelected four times. 

In January 2024, Gov. Tony Evers appointed Taylor to fill the Wisconsin circuit court judgeship in Milwaukee County left vacant by the resignation of Audrey Skwierawski. 

While her resume crackles with achievement, Taylor overcame numerous personal obstacles: She was born prematurely, compiled a 1.8 GPA in high school, was admitted to college on probation, failed the bar exam the first time she took it, and twice lost a race to be mayor of Milwaukee. 

She faced these challenges and conquered them, she said, with diligence and hard work. “I was born a fighter,” she said. “And to whom much is given, much will be required. We all need to remember that.”

About MATC: Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 30,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 180 academic programs — many that prepare students for jobs immediately upon completion and others that provide transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.