People dance to DJ Ace at the 2016 Urban League Unity picnic.

After months of working hard to provide employment, community and youth education programs, the Urban League of Greater Madison is looking forward to taking a break at its annual Unity Picnic this Saturday.

“We deal with so many serious issues throughout the week. It’s always some type of social, economic challenge,” said Dr. Ruben Anthony, Jr., president and CEO of the Urban League, saying the picnic is a chance to relax and “let our hair down.”

The free 5th Annual Unity Picnic will be held at The Village on Park, 2222 S. Park St., this Saturday, July 20, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The inaugural picnic was created as a chance for the community to meet Anthony, who was new on the job. But it took place just a few months after Madison resident Tony Robinson was shot and killed by police, and the next year, the community was still struggling with the incident, so the Urban League decided to host another Unity Picnic, Anthony said.

Some of the most memorable parts of picnics past have been witnessing the cross-section of the community in attendance “from all walks of life,” including grassroots community members, the mayor and the county executive, Anthony said.

“It’s like a big old block party,” Anthony said. “The community loves this event and it’s just become a staple.”


Ruben Anthony, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison in Madison, on Thursday, April 19, 2018. PHOTO BY MICHELLE STOCKER

The event is nothing fancy, Anthony said. Attendees will set up under a big tent to play cards, eat, dance and visit resource tables. This year will also feature a dunk tank, and Madison Police Chief Mike Koval is up first for dunking, Anthony said.

BP Smokehouse from Tomah will provide barbecue and Kipp’s Cuisine Catering will provide the sides. Kinfolk, DJ Ace (also known as YWCA CEO Vanessa McDowell), and more will perform music throughout the afternoon.

The theme for this year’s event is “Fun & Fitness,” and attendees are encouraged to come ready to work out.

There are several community athletic events happening that day, Anthony said, like a Gospel 5K Run/Walk at Penn Park at 8 a.m. and there is a “Pedal to the Finish 24 Hour Challenge” fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County ending at 7 a.m. Saturday morning. Participants from those events can head over to the Unity Picnic after they finish, Anthony said. At the picnic, they can participate in more exercise like the event’s first-ever double dutch contest.

Before the picnic kicks off, the Urban League will hold a stakeholder meeting at 11 a.m. where they will honor former mayor Paul Soglin and Madison School District Superintendent Jennifer Cheatum with achievement awards. They will also recognize SSM Health and the Department of Workforce Development for recently awarding grants to the Urban League.

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Though rain is in the forecast for Saturday, Anthony said the party will go on if the weather turns sour (absent thunder or lightening).

“We got a tent out there, we’re just going to go with it,” he said. “We’ll be eating in the rain and dancing in the rain ... we’re going to celebrate the Unity Picnic regardless.”

Anthony noted that the Urban League is still looking for volunteers to clean up after the event, and anyone interested can contact Andrew Schilcher at 729-1225.

After the fun of the picnic, stay tuned for more Urban League news: in the next three to four weeks or so, the new building for the city's Park Edge/Park Ridge Employment and Training Center will open. The Urban League is the operator of the center and has been offering services at an alternate location while waiting for the building renovations. The new center will live in what used to be a Griff’s burger joint at 1233 McKenna Blvd.

Urban League staff will work at the center, as well as a Dane County specialist to provide services that are otherwise primarily available at the Dane County Job Center on Aberg Avenue, Anthony said. Just as the Urban League’s South Park Street building is used for community meetings and events, Anthony expects the new training center to be utilized the same way.

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