The Center for Black Excellence will celebrate black culture in Wisconsin
Wisconsin shouldn’t and doesn’t need to be the worst state in America for black people. Milwaukee and Madison shouldn’t and shouldn’t be the worst cities in America for black people.
Our national reputation, based on statistical data showing racial disparities in education, criminal justice and Income limits our ability to attract and retain talent and grow our economy; besides being morally wrong. It is destructive. It’s embarassing. And it’s often met with the answer/question, “What can I do?” The implication is that the problem is too big and therefore the answer is “nothing”.
But we can do something, and we must. And in Madison, we are. We build the Center of Excellence and Black Culturea black-inspired, black-designed and black-led project that will help change the image and reality of Wisconsin.
The idea and motivation for the center are rooted in current black life experiences and in my own family history.
My mother moved from Chicago to Madison just over 50 years ago to pursue a college education and provide a better future for my sister and me. The Gee family now consists of three generations of University of Wisconsin-Madison graduates. The university and a small but thriving community of black UW alumni have provided opportunities, resources, and friendships that have enabled us to create lives of limitless promise, rooted in black excellence and black culture.
Our focus on blackness means celebrating the culture and history of those Wisconsinites who are African, Caribbean, Afro-Latino and, of course, African-American. The Center for Black Excellence and Culture is a return on that investment and an acknowledgment of the hundreds of black respondents who, answering my question about what they needed most, said a place, for us, to come together, to celebrate our history and our contributions. Hundreds of people said they needed a place to save, heal and strengthen; a place to develop successful, creative black leaders and children, a place to create economic independence and wealth, a place that promotes well-being, a space that is ours.
The center is this space. It is both a national model created with the contribution of Lord Cultural Resourcesinternational consultants on projects such as the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as a place for black people in Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Viroqua and Eau Claire, and throughout Wisconsin to come together, reaffirm and celebrate.
In collaboration with the University of Wisconsin, the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and Black medical professionals, researchers, and scientists, the center will draw on the latest data on the impact of inequalities and injustice on black lives and how a physical location like the center can improve black health outcomes.
More than any yard sign or t-shirt, changing the trajectory of black health disparities is black lives that matter in action. And this assertion of results rather than rhetoric is resonating with the broader business community and a growing number of white allies. In the wake of the pandemic, as well as the racial justice protests of 2020, businesses, nonprofits, and local government officials have become more deliberate in seeking support for people of color.
Well-meaning white people providing what they think black people need; remedial programs, training, “assistance”, is as ineffective as it is insulting. The support for the Center for Black Excellence and Culture, which black people say they need, has been extraordinary. Corporate executives and CEOs collectively — not their companies, but personally — have contributed over $1 million.
Overall, corporations, philanthropists and government, including state, national and global companies like Summit Credit Union, American Family Insurance, CUNA Mutual Group, UW Health, as well as Governor Tony Evers, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D -Wis.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), and dozens of others helped us reach more than halfway to our $36 million goal. The Green Bay Packers threw for $250,000. Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin is a member of our fundraising campaign team. We are grateful for support from across Wisconsin and welcome partners from across the state.
Of course, there are many benefits for businesses and organizations statewide. Black talent needs a community where people can thrive and thrive. And Wisconsin must do a better job. attract and retain black talent to flourish and prosper. This project is life changing. It’s not just built for black people, but by black influencers.
The Center for Black Excellence and Culture is a place where black people welcome and entertain black dignitaries, to enjoy and celebrate black art, theater, music and performances. It’s part of the “life after work” experience that black people find missing in Wisconsin cities, and why so many people are leaving. And beyond that, it is a place of renewal and aspiration. Ultimately, this is a place for everyone.
Recognizing the tangible relevance of the history and contributions of the African Diaspora, we blacks, browns and whites will all benefit from making our state more welcoming, healthy and prosperous for all. Despite perceptions, Madison and Milwaukee have been partners in keeping our state alive. My family and many others traveled regularly to Milwaukee for black culture, food, and entertainment.
Madison’s Center for Black Excellence and Culture will be a complimentary and culturally affirming space to experience Black Brilliance, Grandeur and Innovation, Black Brilliance, Black Grandeur and Innovation black.
Let’s be partners in creating this vision. Together, we can lead the way in transforming the racially disparate Wisconsin narrative into a national model of diversity and inclusion. Now is our time to realize it. We invite everyone in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin to join us.
Reverend Dr. Alex Gee is the founder of the Center for Black Excellence and Culture, which is planned on 3.5 acres on the 700 block of West Badger Road in Madison’s historic black neighborhood of S. Park St.. Plans call for the center to open in 2024. Gee is a longtime Madison resident, pastor of Fountain of Life Church, and founder/CEO of the nonprofit Nehemiah Center of Urban Leadership. Development.