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Coalition grants announced

Rev. Alex Gee, left, senior pastor at Fountain of Life Covenant Church, announced that nearly $100,000 in grants by local foundations and individual donors have been raised for a coalition to address racial disparities in Madison.

Members of the Justified Anger coalition announced Wednesday that the group has received $100,000 from several community foundations and anonymous donors to aid in its efforts to eliminate racial inequalities in Madison.

The funds, from the Madison Community Foundation, CUNA Mutual foundation, Evjue Foundation (the charitable arm of The Capital Times), MGE Foundation and several individuals, will allow the coalition to hire a small professional staff. The staff will be responsible for things including monitoring the data and metrics the coalition gathers, managing the Justified Anger website, providing administrative support and managing projects. 

It will allow the coalition members to focus solely on developing a proposal for the Madison community with recommendations for how to close its racial gap significantly over the next several years, said Rev. Alex Gee, founder of the coalition and pastor of Fountain of Life Covenant Church. With the support of an administrative staff, the proposal has a "more favorable timeline," Gee said, adding that he foresees it being ready in the fall rather than a year from now.

Since the publication of Gee's "Justified Anger" essay, the motif of a table has been prominent in his discussions about Madison's racial disparities. He's said that African-American community members have not been at the table where decisions are being made.

"What's so beautiful about (these foundations) is they heard what the African-American community was saying," Gee said. "It wasn't even a matter of them saying, 'You're right, come to the table.' They said, 'Set the table, where do you want to shop,' then they let us set the table."

The next step for the coalition is to reach out to the African-American community through listening sessions in schools, churches, community centers and at Fountain of Life. A 'family meeting' is scheduled at Fountain of Life on June 5.

It's important to have grassroots input before moving forward with any recommendations, Gee said.

One way the coalition hopes to achieve that is through an online survey available to the entire community. The survey will allow community members to suggest ideas and vote existing ideas "up" or "down" to give a sense of their priorities. 

"This allows us to collect wisdom, voices, strength, vision, passion," Gee said. "It's only in inviting the broader community to join with us that we’re going to do this."

The location the coalition chose for its announcement was a reminder of the power of collaboration, Gee said. The group, joined by Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, Dane County Supervisor Shelia Stubbs and others, spoke at 711 W. Badger Road — in front of the abandoned carwash between Burger King and Fountain of Life Church.

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The city just approved the demolition of the carwash, Gee said, and the space will soon be turned into a basketball court and soccer field. He is heartened to see the space — once a trap for crime — be transitioned into a positive place. 

"It’s a sign that we have a capability of taking something that’s ugly and dangerous and if we work together and believe our community deserves better, can have better, can do better, collectively we can make that happen," Gee said.

Gee said the response from the community foundations was "an answered prayer." He knows Madison has a long way to go, but he believes in celebrating small successes — and this, he said, is much more than a small success.

He's grateful — not just for the financial support, but that people have listened and heard what's needed.

"You can’t change the past, but this is how you change the future," Gee said.