Marcia Coggs was a trailblazer and the matriarch of a highly successful political family. She also has the distinction of being the first Black woman state representative of Wisconsin. A Democrat, Coggs was elected in 1977 and served in the state legislature until 1991. She was also the first Black person to sit on the state legislature’s powerful and coveted Joint Finance Committee.
The Coggs family has long served the citizens of Wisconsin, beginning with her husband, Isaac, who served in the Assembly from 1953 to 1963. Her nephew, Leon Young, has been a Democratic state representative since 1992, and her other nephew, G. Spencer Coggs, won a seat in the Senate after serving as a state representative since 1983. And her daughter, Elizabeth, now serves in the Assembly, making the Coggs family the first in state history where the father, mother and daughter served in the state Assembly. Coggs graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and spent 13 years working for the former Milwaukee County Children’s Home. During her 16 years in the state legislature, Coggs focused on housing, education and integration issues. The four foot ten Democrat was small in stature but she was a dynamo politician who stood her ground and ultimately came to be known as “The conscience of the State of Wisconsin” Because of her work and advocacy for the poor and underserved, in 2004 Milwaukee County human services building was renamed in Coggs’ honor.
C.C. Henderson, former president and CEO of Milwaukee Health Services, Inc. was known for this strict business attitude and keen understanding of healthcare, particularly as it relates to underserved communities. It’s no surprise that when he died suddenly of a heart attack in 2010, the nonprofit organization’s board of directors decided to keep the clinic open because they knew that’s what Henderson would have wanted…business as usual. The Tennessee native was appointed to lead Milwaukee Health Services, Inc. (MHSI) in 2002. With more than 30 years behind the scenes experience in healthcare, he was tapped for the job because of his vast knowledge about healthcare and business administrative acumen. When he took over the helm of MHSI the organization was $5 million in debt and on the verge of collapsing, and today the non-profit operates three clinics-one more than when Henderson arrived-has a budget of $24 million and serves about 36,000 people up from about 20,000. A graduate of Wiley College, Henderson was widely respected in his field. In fact, he was recommended as a candidate for the position of CEO and president of MHSI by federal regulators in the health field industry. Henderson was low-key, but he knew how to get the job done quietly, patiently and efficiently. A leader who was driven to improve and expand healthcare services to underserved populations, Henderson exceeded everyone’s expectations in turning MHSI around and his legacy remains in the form of three healthcare facilities that serve the underserved and uninsured in Milwaukee. Those facilities are the MLK Heritage Health Center at 2555 N. King Drive; the Isaac Coggs Heritage Health Center, 8200 W. Silver Spring Drive; and the MHS Convenient Care Clinic, which opened last year in the Piggly Wiggly Food Market at 4061 N. 54th St.
Joanne Williams grew up in the television industry. After graduating from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL she went to work as a reporter, writer and weather person at WGN-TV in Chicago. In 1972 she returned to Milwaukee to anchor Milwaukee’s first morning news show at WTMJ-TV4. In 1979 she moved to WITI-TV, FOX6, where she eventually anchored the news at noon, Monday through Friday, as well as serve as the education reporter for that station.
Williams has become a familiar and trusted Milwaukee staple, and her community spirit and involvement run deep. Among her activities, she is the Regional Director for Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan for the National Association of Black Journalists, the largest organization of journalists of color in the world. She is also was formerly president of the Milwaukee Press Club.
Recently, Williams switched gears and left television to accept a position as Vice President for Marketing and Public Relations at Cardinal Stritch University. Education is very important and deeply personal to her, and she has her father to thank for that. Williams’ father, John J. Williams, received a teaching certificate from the Milwaukee State Normal School, now the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, but was unable to find a job, because Milwaukee was not hiring African-American teachers in the 1930s. As a result, he taught briefly in Oklahoma before returning to Milwaukee to take a position with the United States Postal Service. John’s passion for education remained, and after his retirement from the USPS, he returned to education in positions with the State of Wisconsin Higher Education Aids Board and the Milwaukee Urban League.
At age 70, he received his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. And shortly thereafter, he was hired as a counselor at UW-Platteville.
Williams’ career has now come full circle. She’s able to integrate something that’s deeply important to her—education—with her vast skills and knowledge of the media industry. She is a trailblazer, advocate, and media maven in this community.