Tracey Pollock
City People

Rob “Biko” Baker

Milwaukee native returns to city with a focus on long-term change.

By - Aug 14th, 2013 02:15 pm
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Rob "Biko" Baker

Rob “Biko” Baker

Rob “Biko” Baker believes the way to create change in Milwaukee is through long term and sustainable campaigns, saying “it’s cool for things to take a long time, we didn’t get here over night.”  Through a combination of community organizing and social media outreach, he is part of a movement to get youth involved in community and politics.

Baker, a native of Milwaukee, is the Executive Director of the national advocacy organization League of Young Voters (The League). The League is a non-profit organization that encourages youth to get involved in their communities through the electoral process and community organizing.  Their electoral work focuses upon door to door education and Get Out The Vote canvassing in Federal and Local Elections.

Born on July 28, 1978, Baker grew up in Milwaukee and was politically aware from a young age with a father involved in the machinists and elevator operators union. He began reading political works in his early teens and became a self described nerd throughout attending Milwaukee Lutheran High School.  Alongside reading he coached the Simbalyin Soccer Club, through the Boys and Girls Club.

Baker received an athletic scholarship to play soccer in college, but eventually focused on academics, receiving his undergraduate degree at UW-Milwaukee in Political Science and Africology.  “I saw it as a way to get out of Milwaukee, I wanted to experience the world.”

He then pursued a PhD in history at UCLA, writing his dissertation on the intersection between deindustrialization and the war on drugs in Milwaukee.  During his six years in Los Angeles Baker worked within the music industry, making connections as a manager, producer and hip hop writer.

He began working with the League of Young Voters as a volunteer in 2003 doing groundwork for the 2004 presidential election.  Having returned to Milwaukee for the election, he decided to stay saying, “I believe in Milwaukee.”

Along with two friends, they started “Campaign Against Violence,” holding weekly marches against violence in the inner-city and created a block mentor program on the North side.  After this organizing work, Baker got more involved in The League, believing that violence stems from structural inequalities in schools, economics and so on.

The League had a special meaning to Baker because of the focus on youth leading the way towards sustainable change in communities of Milwaukee.

“The way to make change is through new opportunities and innovation. We have been stuck in Milwaukee with the focus on manufacturing and the war on drugs. The schools are focused on kids working in manufactoring when that just isn’t the case anymore. An increased police presence in our communities is attacking the problem after it hits, we need more recreational activities and community organization. Though the police play an important role, I think elected officials have chosen the easy way out,” Baker said of current methods of dealing with inner-city issues of violence and unemployment.

Having youth involved in their communities and working towards getting strong leadership elected to serve Milwaukee is a focus of The League’s work. Baker points to Ald. Milele Coggs as an important leader in the city as well as an example of fresh new leadership that Milwaukee needs.

Though now being in the top position of The League, Baker said his leadership style is to let the youth lead campaigns on the path towards becoming strong leaders in their communities.  Outreach is done in public schools, through community organizing, and heavy use of Facebook and Twitter. He also uses the power of music to reach out to youth and provides a gateway into the music industry for local artists. A production studio is set in their office to make videos they distribute for campaigns.

Baker says the Milwaukee office provides an avenue of employment for formerly incarcerated youth. He says they are an incredibly talented group of kids that run social media campaigns and help educate the community about voting rights after probation and parole is completed.  With the “school to prison pipeline” being a grave concern for many youth and parents, The League provides a dual approach of reaching out to youth to prevent incarceration and providing support for those who have been incarcerated.

Beyond electoral work, The League in Milwaukee is involved in several community campaigns and has a close relationship with other non-profits working on social justice issues.  They work with Wisconsin Jobs Now, Citizen Action-Wisconsin, African American Engagement Roundtable, Mothers Against Gun Violence, True Skool, Urban Underground, MICAH (Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope) and the NAACP Youth Council.

The last weekend in August, they will be hosting a weekend of events to address gun violence in the city.  Saturday August 31st, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. “Politics and Pancakes: an Inter-generational Dialogue” will be held at Heartlove Place at 3229 N. Martin Luther King Drive.  The event will be addressing the issues of rape, murder and drug use with a panelist discussion.

The following day will be the 9th annual “Put the Guns Down” music and dance festival. The event begins at 11 a.m. at King Park at 1531 W. Vliet Avenue with a “march for peace” around the neighborhood.  Their will be free food, school supplies, a designated children’s area and entertainment from local hip-hop artists.

Other events they have hosted included a roundtable discussion on gun violence and getting their volunteers to attend common council meetings.

Through the combined effort of community work, electoral work, and social media — The League of Young Voters, led by Rob “Biko” Baker, is helping to create an environment of change within our great city, one campaign and election at a time.

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