At first glance, Gwendolynne S. Moore looks like a schoolteacher. Her trademark stylish glasses frame a dignified face, exuding warmth and warning. But she’s quick to point out, “I don’t play.” Her lady-next-door appeal formed the base for her political campaign for Congress last fall. In true underdog fashion, Moore (D-Wis.) beat Republican candidate Gerald Boyle for the seat, making her the state’s first black member of Congress and its second woman. Indeed, Moore, who was sworn into Congress on Jan. 5, 2005, has demonstrated tenacity and tenderness, strength and sensitivity on her long and sometimes difficult road to the nation’s capital.
The eighth of nine children born to a factory worker and a schoolteacher, Moore was schooled in Milwaukee’s underprivileged inner city. “By the 11th grade, I realized with horror that my assumption of attending college was no more than that—an assumption,” says Moore. She graduated from high school and was accepted to Marquette University. By the time she began her freshman year, she was pregnant with her first child and on government assistance.
“Too many people feel that where you start out dictates where you should end up,” says Moore, 55, who has three children, Jessalyne, Ade, and Sowande. “I was on welfare and just shy of 19 when my first daughter was born, but I was encouraged to take advantage of my ability and drive and remained in school.”
After eight years, she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1978 at the age of 27. By her mid-30s, she had two more children.
She dedicated her early career to finding solutions to the problems facing the distressed communities of her youth. From 1985 through 1989, Moore worked in a variety of government positions, including as a neighborhood development specialist for the city of Milwaukee and as a housing officer for the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.
Moore’s early life reflected the barriers—poverty, inadequate public education, and high unemployment—faced by many residents of color in Wisconsin’s 4th Congressional District. In 1989, Moore set her sights on attaining public office to champion social justice, job creation, and access to quality education and affordable healthcare for Wisconsin’s invisible communities.
Milwaukee currently has the highest teenage pregnancy rate and one of the highest socio-economic gaps between blacks and Caucasians in the nation. Moore is gearing up for a re-election bid for Congress for 2006. She plans to fight for educational progress that has been lost and to protect Medicaid and the environment. This latest hurdle will no doubt be challenging. But Moore has proven that she has the grit to face tough obstacles head-on and blossom despite the odds.
B.E.’S SUCCESSPERT SPEAKS
“Overcoming obstacles builds the mental, spiritual, and even physical muscle that can help us succeed in life,” says James Jordon, a Milwaukee-based motivational speaker, author, and entrepreneur (www.dynastyrealestate.com). He notes that many of the world’s most memorable leaders—from Mahatma Gandhi to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—have overcome hardship and gone on to accomplish great things. “Understand that failure is part of the process