The pursuit of education brought Corinda Rainey-Moore to Madison from Chicago in 1980, when she became the first person in her family to go to college. More than 35 years later, she hasn’t stopped learning, even though she’s already acquired two master's degrees beyond the bachelor’s degree in communications she received from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

She plans to complete work on her doctorate in educational leadership from Edgewood College in December, but it wasn’t just the degrees that led YWCA Madison to choose Rainey-Moore to be among its six Women of Distinction this year.

Over the past three decades, Rainey-Moore has made a career of making resources available to the community and helping people access them through organizations ranging from the National Alliance on Mental Illness to the Urban League of Greater Madison to Madison College’s Communities of Color Advisory Council to the Safe Communities coalition.

Her current role as community outreach coordinator for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families draws on the deep networks she’s built in Madison over the years.

Rainey-Moore, 54, recently visited the Cap Times newsroom to talk about how she came to Madison, the work she does and what the community needs to do to improve racial equity.

There is a lot of concern now about the climate for students of color at UW-Madison. How did you manage it in the 1980s?

One of the things that I did when I was on the UW campus is I connected with a fraternity — Alpha Phi Alpha — which my future husband (Bobby Moore) was a member of. That fraternity took a group of us under their wings, and I think that’s one of the reasons why I was successful at UW, because of the support that they gave us to navigate stuff, in terms of helping us work through issues. There were times when I did want to go home. I could have easily gone home because my mom was like, “Are you sure this is where you want to be?”

To me, some of the same issues that the students are talking about now were issues even back then, such as de-inclusiveness. A lot of times, the students of color aren’t included in some of the decision-making. When you bring those issues to light, often times you don’t get a response or you get, “We’re working on it.” Well, how long is it going to take for you to work on it because every year UW says they are working on these diversity issues. Well, what does that mean, you’re working on it? What progress have you made?

You’re still connected to the campus. How have things changed — if at all — for students of color there now?

Well, I think one of the things that’s changed is that students can utilize technologies in ways that we couldn’t to talk about their experiences, to make their experiences public. If there were incidents that happened when I was in school, you didn’t really hear about them because they were kept secret or they were in pockets.

You’d hear about them only from a close friend ...

Right. Even as people of color, there are some people that were on that college campus when I was in college that I still don’t know, some that I didn’t meet until later in life. The reason being is because for most students there’s a core group of housing where students are. But if you’re one of those students that are off by Elizabeth Waters where those dorms are, how much interaction do you really get with other people of color? Probably not a lot.

You just got back from Kazakhstan as part of Leadership Wisconsin, a UW-Extension program that trains leaders and takes them to communities around Wisconsin and all over the world. Why did you join?

To tell you the truth, I was scared to be in that group because I’d never traveled up north in Wisconsin. From the stories I’d heard, black people don’t want to be up north. But when we went to Leadership Wisconsin and I started going up I was like, ”Wisconsin has a lot of beautiful untold stories that our community doesn’t experience because we’re so busy saying we can’t go up north.”

When I went to college, I studied Swahili and I was hoping to get to Africa, but if I wouldn’t have stepped outside of my comfort zone with Leadership Wisconsin, I would have never gone to Africa. Kazakhstan wasn’t on my radar — I don’t think it was on anybody’s radar, to tell you the truth — but then I was like, “I’ve never gone to Kazakhstan. When am I going to go on a vacation that’s planned where I don’t have to do anything but be at these certain places when they say 'Be here' and everything else is worked out?”

So because of that I had a great experience. We have to be willing to step outside of our comfort zone and be exposed to different things that we’re not used to, to be able to also share those experiences with other people.

In your work in the community, what’s one of the things you’re most proud of?

I’ve served as the first and only person of color as the president of NAMI-Dane County. Part of why that means a lot is because mental illness affects everybody, but people of color often don’t think about it. The fact that I was able to be the president and to bring issues of awareness around mental illness and the stigma around mental illness means a lot to me.

From your perspective working in Madison for many organizations, what are the city’s biggest barriers to racial equity?

To me, I think one of the biggest barriers to stuff is access. Access has different complexities. For some, it means when I walk through the door, is that a welcoming environment for me? Is it someplace where I can look around and see people who look like me? Is there stuff on the wall that reflects who I am? Are your values in line with mine? That’s part of it. The other part of access is not knowing what resources are available and how those resources come together to help you.

I also think, for me, the other challenge that people face is organizations not working together. So I have to go here to get this need met, and then go here to get this need met. Why can’t organizations pull together and work to make it easier for a person to access what they need?

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