MADISON — Milele Chikasa Anana left for her next gig on May 6, 2020. Milele, her chosen name, which means a rare and sparkling jewel, left peacefully as she wished, at home, in family, surrounded by love, laughter and fanfare.
Milele (born Bettye Jean Ingram) was born on Jan. 31, 1934, to Ada Thomas and Alvin Ingram in Oklahoma City, Okla. Born to a young, single mother—a diamond in the rough, Milele was raised in community by her beloved Aunt Edna Moreland, in Greenwood, on the notable Black Wall Street -the place where the people who could and would (Tulsa, Okla).
Milele took the lessons she learned and applied them earning her B.A. from Talladega —a celebrated Historic Black College and University (HBCU). She later went on to earn her Master’s from Purdue University.
In this life, Ms. Milele stayed busy. She started out as a freelance writer for publications such as Essence, Ebony Jr. and The Black Scholar and worked as a Professor of English at Florida A & M, another esteemed HBCU. After Marching on Washington (1963) and working with the NAACP to fight for better schools during the Boston bussing plight, Milele came to Wisconsin in 1968 with her husband, Professor James Latimer, who was recruited by the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
As a dignified professor’s wife, with fire in her belly, and the grass of her roots embedded in community, Milele started her work in Madison as a petite and elegant “hell-raiser” becoming a stanch activist for civil rights. In this role Milele worked day-in and day-out to pave a path for minorities and women, to stomp down on racism, to fade bigotry and to impinge the accepted disbelief in the potential of others who didn’t fit the status quo.
In 1974, Milele ran for the Madison School Board, becoming the first African American in Wisconsin elected to public office in this capacity. Once there, she did her part to give an authentic voice and credence to the potential in every student.
As Madison’s first Affirmative Action Officer, Milele made space for women and minorities at a time when the belief was that they were not strong enough, not good enough, and thus reasonably shut out of certain industries and opportunities. In partnership with the Mayor, Police Chief, and a group of committed community leaders, they worked together to change the seats at the community table; focusing to set new places for those shut out. Eventually, this painstaking work blessed Madison with the privilege of celebrating new and diverse heads of both the police and fire forces.
In the second set of her life, after leaving and then returning to Madison, Ms. Milele came back to her love of writing and community as the Publisher and Founder of UMOJA Magazine, which had been previously founded as a newsletter and calendar.
By force of nature and against the odds, Milele worked religiously to grow UMOJA into a unique, monthly magazine (the signature of which is its stunning covers featuring original artwork by local, national and world-renowned Black artists). In this process she stayed dedicated to profiling and signifying the accomplishments of the people in and about the Black Community just like she had experienced as a child growing up on Black Wall Street. In words she was able to shine a light on all the sparkling diamonds caught in the rough of life. Before her passing, UMOJA celebrated its 30th anniversary making it the oldest Black magazine in Wisconsin.
Milele believed that strong cultural and community roots not only nourished one’s soul but were significant in shaping one’s life, shaping the lives of others that God intended to shape. In this, she believed that joy is when you give yourself to others by giving them that which has been honorably, unapologetically and specifically passed to you.
Her legacy is survived by her former husband and life-long friend, Dr. James Latimer; sister, Marsha Bradley; and children, Major Clark “Trooper” Latimer (DianaTaylor), Catherine McCarthy (Frank), Jim Latimer (Stephanie Taylor), Treater Prestine (Jodie) and Julia “Amani” Latimer Burris (Rick Burris). Her family life includes grandchildren, Major, Myriah, Joshua, Frank, Amy, Elizabeth, Dannielle, Ester, Sarah, Jibade, Kwame, Nia, Levi, Jesus, JasaLynn, Desiraye, Zoey, Niklaus, Raiden and numerous cousins, nieces, nephews and Gracie.
Her extended family includes her beloved village, her beloved friends, and her beloved community. And she loved her sparkling role as beloved Ms. Milele.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a community celebration of life will take place on Aug. 22, 2020, at 11 a.m. at MOUNT ZION BAPTIST CHURCH, Madison. A private burial will be held at Sunset Memorial Gardens, Madison.
In lieu of flowers, Ms. Milele asked that donations be made to the Milele Chikasa Anana Scholarship fund established, in community and purposeful partnership through the Madison Community Foundation at www.Madisongives.org. This fund has been seeded in unity in perpetuity so that other local diamonds can attend HBCUs.
Of course, Ms. Milele also asked that you support local Black business (by subscribing to Umoja Magazine at www.Umojamagazine.com) and to be forever conscious of supporting local entrepreneurs, the heartbeat of all communities, and to do your part to carry out meals, goods or services from a local business during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Online condolences may be made at www.fosterfuneralhomes.com. Complaints? Give them to God.
Special thanks to the health care providers and staff at Fresenius Kidney Care American Parkway and Heartland Hospice.