Courtney S. Hayward is quiet and unassuming.  At times one may find her sitting astute in a crowded political forum, much like an NBA scout gathering intel for a professional team.

Her typical day involves connecting with policymakers, gathering relevant insider political updates, and nudging politicians toward meaningful action. These tasks are the core duties of a registered lobbyist, and Hayward may be the only African American in Dane County to work as a professional advocate – better known as a registered lobbyist.

Countless Wisconsin residents have better lives because of Hayward’s commitment to using her extraordinary skills of persuasion to convince those responsible to raise their standards of justice.

“We have an ethics commission that creates rules that govern how we are able to lobby and what we can and cannot do, otherwise we could be found in violation of those laws,” said Hayward, director of Government Relations for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. “It’s so much more than what most people think.”

The title “lobbyist” can be broad, applying to anyone involved in a local community movement, a corporate merger or political campaign. Regardless of the cause, a lobbyist’s objective remains the same — to influence opinions, inspire ideas and elicit action. They persuade and sway politicians to vote for or against legislation. Every state has its own set of rules around lobbying, what it is, and who can do it. 

There’s no official record on the number of Black lobbyists in the U.S. The National Black Professional Lobbyists Association, however, was formed to act as a national agency for Black state lobbyists to promote the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the professional arenas of lobbying, advocacy, legislative and government affairs, among other things. It has nearly 200 members, including Hayward.

Admittedly, Hayward didn’t have career ambitions of becoming a political professional. The Deerfield Beach, Florida native with Haitian roots, made it to law school but didn’t find her calling there. She disliked working in corporate America, to put it mildly. Following a stint of volunteering at women’s shelters and food pantries, she happily found a career in the nonprofit arena. A place where lives were being changed for the better.

“I was in operations in nonprofits,” said Hayward, a University of Central Florida graduate. “I was seeing how there was always this rat race for funding for nonprofit organizations. I realized that though nonprofits serve a purpose of mitigating some of the symptoms, they were not getting to the root of the problems in our community. It seemed like they were never going to go away.

“I started asking myself how do we fix the systems? You do that through policy. That’s when I realized that I wanted to get into policy. I didn’t know what that looked like, but knew I want to get into policy some way,” Hayward said further.

Hayward, who earned a master’s in public administration and is currently seeking a Ph.D. in public policy and administration, landed a job with Planned Parenthood as a government relations specialist.

“I didn’t read the job description thoroughly,” Hayward laughed. “I thought I was just going to do policy research when my boss, three days in, said ‘we’ve got to get you registered to be a lobbyist’. … Like most people I didn’t really know what that was.”

Hayward’s inquisitive nature took over.

“I asked my boss aren’t lobbyists like crooks? Aren’t they bad people,” Hayward questioned. “My boss was like, ‘some of them are but for Planned Parenthood, we do good work. We lobby the state legislature to make decisions that affect everyday people that make a real impact on everyday people.’”

The response was alluring to Hayward as it fit her life’s purpose of being a voice for the voiceless.

Remembering words of advice from her mother, Hayward uses her powerhouse position to advocate for provisions and legislation directed toward health disparities prevalent in communities of color.

“That was also something that my mom had always instilled in me,” said Hayward, who moved to Madison in 2017. “One thing is to look out for the greater good, but never forget to look out for Black and brown folks. Don’t forget your people.”

Hayward attributes her successes to her mother, Martha Jane Hayward. The single mother of six single-handedly transformed the rat-infested South Florida housing projects into a safe haven for unwed mothers and children. Affectionately known as Ms. Jane in the community, she used her wit, passion and voracious appetite for reading to take on city hall for better living conditions, and won. She also aided in the development of a neighborhood GED program, helped create youth recreational programs, and brought community policing to their doorsteps to rid crime. 

“I was the youngest and was often with my mother when she would go door-to-door getting signatures for petitions,” said Courtney Hayward, adding her family relied on public assistance for survival. “My mom did a lot of advocacy work. And her efforts are still evident today in our Deerfield Beach.”

When Hayward was 14, she lost her mother to breast cancer.  But her spirit to leave the world better than she found it lives deep inside Hayward.

“I was always taught that if you see a problem, come up with the solution,” Hayward said. “And then be willing to put in the work to see that solution through.”

Giving back to the community has come full circle for Hayward who adds being a lobbyist has its rewards. 

“Remembering all the rules can be tough,” said the aunt to 12 nieces and nephews. “The hardest part of this job is the slow change that happens. You don’t see any immediate change. It’s sometimes slow and it’s painstaking. But once it happens, it is good and it’s long lasting.”