Rev. Alex Gee and a collective of Madison community leaders representing education, health and government entities are envisioning a landmark cultural space to celebrate and advance Dane County’s Black community.
Gee said the Center for Black Excellence and Culture will be the solution to an absence of space dedicated to recognizing and lifting up Black culture in the community.
“We truly believe that by creating a physical space for Black people to celebrate culture, pay a tribute to our history and nurture future Black leaders that it will advance the entire community,” Gee said at a press conference Monday.
Gee said the center, slated for the south side, will foster a sense of family and community, celebrate and teach Black culture, honor Black history, support and develop Black business and community leaders, attract and retain Back talent and provide space for conversation, connection and growth. While specific uses will be informed by community needs, Gee said there will be space for artistic expression, connection and teaching.
Madison is consistently recognized as one of the best places to live, but it also reflects stark, stubborn racial disparities. Gee said in a statement the city’s Black community is “ready for a renaissance” but that there’s no place in Dane County to network, celebrate their culture or plan advancement.
“When African American people are being interviewed (for jobs) in this community, and they ask their potential employer where can we go to see the African American community at work, this will be that place,” Gee said.
The center will be located on 3.5 acres on the 700 block of West Badger Road next to Gee’s Fountain of Life Covenant Church, along the Beltline. A building that houses staff for the church and Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development will be demolished as part of the project.
“We are perched in a position to bring forth powerful development of Black thought, innovation, creativity and art via the Black community,” said Rev. Lilada Gee, founder of Defending Black Girlhood and Black Woman Heal.
Alex Gee said the Center is expected to break ground in 2022 and comes with an anticipated $18 million to $20 million budget.
In his 2021 capital budget proposal, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi included $810,000 for a new nonprofit organization to purchase land from Fountain of Life Covenant Church. Parisi said the county will be a supportive partner to the Black community’s leadership.
“Dane County is committed to our Black community in both word and deed,” Parisi said. “Today with this initiative, we invest in the history and culture and soul of our Black community.”
The new nonprofit will raise capital for the Center and provide development and financial oversight during construction. After the project is completed, this group will provide governance oversight of the Center.
Gee said he’s confident the community can raise the funds necessary to build the project
“We have put so many dollars in creating rescue modes,” Gee said. “This is a chance to do something that promotes the beauty and the strength of our community.”
Rep. Shelia Stubbs, who is also a county supervisor, said she would advocate for state funding for the project.
“We will not forget our history, but we will certainly move forward in our future,” Stubbs said.
The Center will be an addition to and investment in Madison’s south side community. It comes as Madison College opened its new location last August and the Urban League of Greater Madison works to create a South Madison Black Business Hub.
Gee said the Center will be a “crowning jewel of culture and celebration.”
“We believe that this is going to be the most beautiful, decorated and exciting entrance into our city that Madison has,” Gee said.
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