Black Women's Leadership Conference

Attendees fill a room at the Discovery Buildin on UW-Madison's campus for the 2019 Black Women's Leadership Conference.

At the fourth annual Black Women’s Leadership Conference, Sabrina Madison reflected on the the creation of the Progress Center for Black Women with Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and shared future plans for the conference.

Madison recounted the frustration she felt working at Madison College and what led her to quit that job in 2016.

“I got sick and tired of going into these work spaces where I was the only black person in the building,” Madison said.

The Progress Center for Black Women, located in Fitchburg at 5936 Seminole Centre Ct. in Suite 211, is designed specifically for black women. The space brings all of Madison’s work under one roof and represents a long-term commitment to black women and families.

Rhodes-Conway met with Madison at the center early on as the space was being set up. She also donated a box of books that were relevant to the African-American community in Wisconsin that were originally from her partner’s grandmother.

Rhodes-Conway recalled listening to Madison speak about the city, the community and how to support black women and knowing she would continue talking to and learning from Madison. 

“My impression of you was like, here is a woman who knows how to get shit done,” Rhodes-Conway said.

Illustrating the importance of networks, Madison shared how City Council President Shiva Bidar, who works for UW Health, helped secure funding for local yoga instructor Keena Atkinson to get certified as a teacher.

“I’ve been trying to really work at UW Health to be really intentional about not creating these barriers in the system to give money out because that’s what systems do,” Bidar said.

Madison was seeking a black yoga instructor to work with young girls in the community. Atkinson described how she felt unwelcome in yoga studios to the point where she could not focus on the class.

“I’m going to teach yoga, so people can have the experience I want to have,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson said she wants to focus on living her life “authentically and unapologetically” as a black woman.

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“A lot of mornings I hear Sabrina’s voice in my head, ‘I quit my job to work for black women,’ so I was like I’m going to quit my job because I want to live my purpose,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson ended up quitting her job to focus on teaching yoga and on her hair and wellness businesses.

Looking ahead to 2020, Madison plans to release a book and re-envision the Black Women’s Leadership Conference. Madison announced her plans to shoot a documentary about the work of the Progress Center, which will debut at the fifth leadership conference next spring.

“We’re going to go to the movies in 2020,” Madison said.

Madison said the conference will change, though she did not share details, and that she wants to take the conference on a tour around the state.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.