Yogesh Chawla

My day job is information sharing architecture specialist for SEARCH, which is the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics. I’m also the Dane County Board Supervisor for District 6.

At SEARCH, I help public safety agencies collect, share and analyze data. My role is to ensure district attorneys and people in law enforcement and corrections can quickly and accurately compile the data they need.

For instance, say an investigator wants access to all the warrants, citations and background on a particular person—information that’s in a variety of disparate sources. I create software that compiles this data and quickly provides this information. I’ve had the opportunity to work with peers in a variety of states and much of our software is open source. It’s a rewarding challenge to ensure people have access to the data they need to do their jobs well.

I’ve been a member of the Dane County Board since April. I’ve always been concerned about social justice issues and as a first-generation American—my parents are from India, but I was born in and grew up in the U.S.—I have a sense of obligation to show what immigrants bring to this country.

A big theme of my campaign was the reality that the American dream is increasingly unavailable to those who live here. Even in a wonderful city like Madison, where there are so many opportunities, there are also so many disparities. I’m hopeful that by playing a part in the political process, I can help address issues related to criminal justice and equity.

The four of us who ran for this position focused on running a positive campaign. We agreed we wanted our neighbors to judge us based on our message, not by bringing others down and I think we succeeded.

Things have been very busy since the election. Two critical issues I’ve had the good fortune to be involved in: cannabis legalization—for which we currently have an advisory referendum for most of the major population centers in the state—and voter registration.

I recently helped organize a voter registration drive at The Beacon, the homeless day shelter. If we want a society with full participation, we need to start with our most vulnerable populations. Helping people register to vote gets them access to the records they need to tap into services and re-integrate into society. That was incredibly rewarding.

My most memorable caffeine was my mother’s chai. As a person with Indian heritage, there are just certain things you absorb and one is your mom’s chai.

Every morning when I was a kid, there would be a pot of chai cooking on the stove. My parents wouldn’t let the kids drink it—caffeine was a bad habit!—but you could always see and smell it. And they’d be slurping their cup of hot chai. I didn’t want to lose the ability to make our family’s chai and decided to pay attention the next time my parents came to visit.

My parents don’t bring anything special with them—they use the ingredients they find at my house—but somehow their chai is always better than mine. You dump in a bunch of fennel seeds, a cinnamon stick and cardamom pods. You can add in some sliced ginger if you want. You add milk and Lipton’s tea bags—this is very specific!—and you cook it all together. When it’s ready you squeeze out each tea bag, add lots of sugar and enjoy. It can be a very social thing to sit around and have some chai with your family or neighbors.

My current caffeine of choice is either a cup of chai or a café au lait. American coffee is very strong—delicious, but strong. If I’m going to have coffee, I have to plan out my day and make sure I don’t drink too much. Even a café au lait can make me feel quite caffeinated.

My favorite place for caffeine is Mintmark. My house is right around the corner from here and this space used to be the Mermaid Café. It’s always been my favorite place to come, so of course I was a bit worried when the Mermaid Café closed. Fortunately, the new owners understood how important this space was and invited the neighborhood in to offer feedback during construction. I’m happy to say they listened well and did a great job of retaining the Mermaid vibe. Plus, now you can get a great meal and a drink here too!

The person I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with is Jim Kelly, the quarterback for the Buffalo Bills when I was a teenager growing up in Rochester, New York.

Upstate New York and western New York have long faced economic setbacks and the area always seems to be trying to regain its footing. When he first came to the team, Kelly was a brash guy from Miami and we didn’t know how he’d fit in. But he quickly became one of our people.

He’s had incredible setbacks: He lost four Super Bowls in a row; his son died of a rare medical condition and Kelly has dealt with multiple injuries and cancer, I don’t know how many times. But Kelly keeps working hard and never lets challenges get to him. I’d love to be up to every challenge like he is.

 World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: basically any problem that we tackle one person at a time. We tend to think of problems at the macro level and have this hero complex about one person or country swooping in and solving things. But I think meaningful solutions are really a collection of little solutions at the micro level. For instance, if every single person makes small changes like taking public transportation or increasing their use of renewable energy, we could make a difference.

There are probably a billion cups of coffee consumed around the world each and every day. Think of the impact if we could take those billion cups and each contribute our own little solution.