Ndegwa, Hannah, Rebecca and Kibuna at the Chocolatarian for Rebecca's Birthday
I've been a Northsider for 20 years. I live on School Rd. with my husband, Adam Chern, right next door to my mother Joan and sister Martha. Our oldest son Ndegwa is serving in the British Army, having graduated from East High School in 2008. Our other son Kibuna is an artist and chef in Chicago, and our daughter Hannah is a Junior at the University of Vermont majoring in Environmental Studies.
Seventeen years ago, I turned away from an academic career to devote my time and energy more fully to my kids and to my community. The burning question that informed my shift in focus was this:
How are we going to take care of ourselves, one another, and the air, water, and land we depend on in the face of deepening ecological, social, and economic crises?
My years of study and living abroad in Mexico and Kenya convinced me that my efforts would be most effectively spent by building relationships in my community, relationships based on trust and mutual respect, and on supporting people’s capacity to participate in local democratic processes.
Shadayra Kilfoy-Flores and Rebecca at the No DAPL Rally
When Lindbergh and Gompers were threatened with closure, I helped organize parents, teachers, and neighbors to advocate for keeping them open, and spearheaded the creation of school-community gardens at Lindbergh and Blackhawk/Gompers where neighbors, kids and teachers learn from one another and work together to produce healthy food for themselves and for local food pantries.
At a time when the innovative restorative justice and Youth Court programs were expanding across the city, I joined the Dane County TimeBank, a mutual aid organization that facilitates the exchange of services and skills among people in the community to strengthen social networks. DCTB now includes more than 3,000 individual members and has spurred the development of broader mutual aid networks and cooperative information-sharing platforms that involve communities all over the world.
Building worker-owned and –operated businesses is a critical part of the solution to the increasing wealth inequality that is the root cause of so many social problems, and I have been active in local, national and international cooperative organizations. I have taken many active roles at Union Cab Cooperative as a worker-owner for 20 years, and have been elected and re-elected to leadership positions in the national and international worker cooperative movement.
Rebecca and Brandi Grayson at Judge Chris Taylor's Swearing In
Back in 2015 I decided that it was time for me to extend my organizing work into the formal political arena by running for District 18 Alder. While national and state politics have been flooded with the influence of big money, there are still opportunities in Madison to help shape decisions and policy, and to represent people fairly. I want to create the space in city government for the needs, concerns and bright ideas of my neighbors to be heard and engaged.
I have brought my expertise and knowledge to bear on the city’s cooperative enterprise development initiative that launched a few years ago. I believe we can foster long-term economic stability through the creation of family-supporting jobs in enterprises that build the human capacities of workers as they address needs in community. Creating these jobs in and around the food sector by mobilizing already existing Northside organizations like Rooted, the FEED Kitchen and MATC’s culinary arts program has been a key focus.
Rebecca and Alder Marsha Rummel at the No F35 March and Rally
Increasing housing stability for low-income families is critical for kids in schools, and for the general school environment itself. MMSD data on racial disparities in educational outcome show that most of the kids under-performing are highly mobile, moving into and around the city at high rates. As the city builds more affordable housing units, we also need to look at housing policy to make sure that families are able to not just get decent housing, but be able to stay in that housing. I hope to help people facing foreclosure stay in their homes with information and resources that would help.
I earned a BA in Anthropology from UMass - Amherst and a MA and PhD (abd) from UW-Madison. I worked for three years as an academic dean at the UW College of Letters & Science. What I loved about that job was being in a position to work with policy from the basis of students’ real-life experience of “the system.” The work was challenging but very rewarding, especially when I could work with the student and the policy to make changes that had an impact on how the college served students more broadly.
I currently work at several jobs. I am winding down work for the 76th Assembly District as former Rep. Chris Taylor's Chief of Staff. I'm a 20-year worker-owner at Union Cab Cooperative working as a driver, and have played a leadership role in developing strategic planning and worker evaluation and accountability systems for the co-op. I do bookkeeping and janitorial work for Accipiter Properties, the east side property development and management company that renovates and re-purposes industrial buildings owned by my husband Adam and his partner John Young. Adam and I also have a fully bonded, insured and city-licensed snow removal business with 28 commercial and residential clients on the Northside and Isthmus.
January 1, 2021
- 20-year resident of Madison's Northside
- Parent of three Madison East graduates
- President, US Federation of Worker Cooperatives
- President, International Organization of Industrial, Artisanal, and Service Producers' Co-operatives (CICOPA), North America
- Vice-President, CICOPA, Americas Region
- Chief of Staff, Rep. Chris Taylor
- Writer, The Progressive
- Worker-Owner, Union Cab of Madison Cooperative
- Writer and Editor, Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative
- Organizer, Lindbergh Community Garden Initiative
- Organizer, Blackhawk Community Garden Initiative
- Academic Dean, UW College of Letters and Science
- President, East Attendance Area PTO Coalition
- President, Lindbergh Elementary PTO
- President, Dane County TimeBank
- BS - University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Anthropology and African Studies