Brandi Grayson says she never wanted to be an agitator.
“I wanted to fit in. I didn’t want to make people mad. I didn’t want to be the agitator. I didn’t want to be the disruptor,” said Grayson, founder and CEO of local nonprofit Urban Triage. “But in real life that’s just who I am. That’s who God made me to be. And when I was able to accept me, I became empowered.”
From organizing protests to calling out public officials at city meetings, disruption may be how many in Madison know Grayson best. It’s also one of the ways she makes her mark as an outspoken advocate for Madison’s Black community.
Her organization Urban Triage, along with local activist group Freedom Inc., organized most of Madison’s daytime protests against racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
“The whole point of protests is to be as disruptive as possible,” Grayson said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, this is what’s happening, and you continue to allow this thing to happen which is destructive and disruptive of people’s lives. So now we need to bring awareness, so we’re going to disrupt you.’”
Protesters shut down the Beltline, John Nolen Drive and other major streets throughout Madison. They showed up outside the houses of elected officials, including Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and School Board President Gloria Reyes. They’ve also repeatedly filled State Street and Capitol Square chanting “Black Lives Matter,” “Whose Streets? Our Streets” and “If we don’t get it, shut it down!”
Grayson, 40, could be seen speaking to hundreds outside of the Dane County Jail, dancing to the “Cupid Shuffle” with a huge group during a John Nolen Drive shutdown and running ahead of a crowd of protesters to help direct them through a residential area and using a Walkie Talkie to coordinate with other organizers to keep people safe.
Behind the scenes, Grayson and other organizers from Urban Triage and Freedom, Inc. made sure each protest had a group of medics available, a security team, large banners to keep the crowd togethers and lots of supplies, including water, bull horn speakers, hand sanitizer and masks.
“It’s a lot of work,” Grayson said with a laugh.
Though disruptive, all of the protests organized by Freedom, Inc. and Urban Triage have concluded peacefully.
Grayson also consistently fights for Madison’s Black community on smaller stages.
At a recent City Council meeting, Grayson urged council members to pass police oversight measures to hold the city’s law enforcement accountable, something protesters have pushed for. She said voting in support would be to “do what’s right in the lives of Black people as they’re alive.”
“You and many other people that sit on this council are disconnected from the reality of Black people in Madison, who have to exist inside systems (that) don’t see their humanity,” Grayson said. “And it’s hard to continue to engage with systems while begging them to see you. To see you as a person. To see you deserving of life. To see you deserving of justice.”
In her work at Urban Triage, Grayson said she often has to unpack trauma and help Black individuals realize they are deserving of a good life. She said some start to “attach with the idea of Black inferiority,” and she tries to reverse those mindsets with the training she leads.
Urban Triage supports Black families by providing services for professional development, parent leadership, trauma response and economic empowerment, among other support programs.
One of the programs, Supporting Healthy Black Families, is in its fourth cohort. Grayson said she’s seen dozens of people’s lives transformed by the training.
“Folks have ‘aha moments’ and breakthroughs about themselves. ... Some people start businesses. We have some people running for office. We have people entering relationships, leaving long-term abusive relationships. We have people going into therapy with their family,” Grayson said. “That’s the most, like, humbling, amazing experience to be a part of with individuals.”
It seems like you are crazy busy. Whenever I talk with you, you’re juggling watching your son, and then you’re running around protests. What does your day-to-day look like?
My mornings are blocked off for me, meaning that I wake up probably at like 3:30 a.m., 4 a.m. I send out my daily tasks to my staff. Then I get up and do some meditation, and then I work out. I do a boot camp on Zoom.
Then my son usually wakes up. I usually fix him breakfast. I take the dog for a walk. And then at 8:30 a.m. I have an executive coach call. After that my meetings begin.
I’m in meetings from probably when the nanny gets here at 10 until probably about 3:30 p.m., 4 p.m. If I’m not doing that, I’m preparing for our workgroups.
And then in between meetings and things, I’m stopping with Messiah, having lunch with him. Messiah is my 4-year-old. Just making sure I’m intentional about pausing and spending a little time with him, even if it’s on the floor playing around, playing “Lion” because that’s his favorite game. He’s a lion, I’m a tiger.
How did you get your start in activism?
My activism work started at UW-Madison as part of my exposure to and involvement with Black Student Union. That was probably in 1997 or 1998.
And it kind of escalated in 2005 when Katrina happened. I played a huge part in Joining Forces for Families’ efforts to house folks who were involved in Katrina. We ended up getting a bus, organizing apartments, furniture, organizing all this stuff really quickly. That was my first kind of real exposure to overnight organizing.
What are some of the biggest things you want to see changed?
I would love for us to redefine humanity (in a way) that includes all of humanity. Because white supremacy is insidious in the way that the prototype for humanity is whiteness, which leaves everybody else out.
I dream of a day that we’re just all judged by our character. Where the prototype of humanity is no longer rooted in one race, but really the humanity of all of us, no matter your color. And it’s OK to be Black and it’s OK to be brown. And you’re not going to be judged differently because you’re dark.
What drives you to keep fighting for change?
The impact on other people. Even when it seems impossible, even when it seems like nothing’s going to change, there are folks who are watching. There are Black people who are empowered and inspired. And that is really what matters.
Even if change doesn’t happen in my lifetime, we’re the ripples. We’re the small ripples that one day will become tsunamis.
Pain and protest: Madison responds to the police killing of George Floyd
Pain and protest: Madison responds to the police killing of George Floyd (Summer 2020)
Protests erupted across the country, including Madison, to condemn the police-related death of a Minneapolis man May 25. Here's a look at local coverage so far.
Protests erupted across the country, including Wisconsin, to condemn the police-related death of a Minneapolis man, George Floyd, on May 25. H…
On June 23, protesters in Madison wrapped chains around “Forward,” the bronze statue of a woman located at the State Street corner of Capitol …
After demonstrators against racial injustice toppled the “Forward” and Hans Christian Heg statues last Tuesday at Capitol Square, community members have grappled with whether the art should be restored or replaced entirely.
“It’s kind of beautiful how you can show what you’re doing through a peaceful form like art,” Lowell fifth-grader Nelson Lashley said.
Madison officials are struggling to protect protesters' First Amendment rights while keeping citizens and property safe amid continuing protests Downtown.
Two groups for students of color say Abraham Lincoln's history as anti-Indigenous and anti-Black warrant replacing him with someone who "who stands for the justice of all people."
Man arrested for involvement in toppling of Civil War statue; activist charged with extortion.
Several State Street business owners said the disturbance at Coopers Tavern was not an isolated incident.
The statue of Col. Hans Christian Heg, torn down by protesters at the state Capitol on June 23, honors a Norwegian immigrant from Wisconsin wh…
Protesters knocked down two statues Tuesday evening, one that has come to represent women's rights and the other honoring an abolitionist.
"The police department is hesitant because they don't feel that the City Council and definitely the mayor has their backs," Ald. Paul Skidmore said.
Some drivers ran through small crowds of protesters Tuesday, causing injuries among those who were supporting Black Lives Matter.
The School Board is voting Monday to remove police from high schools before fall, and the Madison City Council is expected to introduce a similar resolution to end the contract.
The poll also found former Vice President Joe Biden widening his lead over President Donald Trump in the state and a declining concern among Wisconsinites over the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Madison School Board is creating a subcommittee to work toward removing police officers from schools, but opponents of police in schools are calling for more immediate action.
Protesters tore down statues of Forward and a Union Civil War colonel, assaulted a state senator and set a small fire in a city building Downtown on Tuesday night after the arrest of a Black activist seen causing a disturbance in a restaurant earlier in the day.
In the wake of COVID-19, riots and looting they're asking the street be turned into a temporary pedestrian mall, that subsidies be offered to new tenants filling vacant spaces; outdoor cafe and restaurant spaces be expanded and safety measures improved.
Madison mayor suggests person who hit 24-year-old Black woman might have committed a hate crime.
Natural light, customers and hope have begun to return on State Street. But uneasiness remains even as the plywood starts to come off the windows.
Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes unveiled Friday a package of bills that would ban the use of chokeholds by Wisconsin police officers, as well as limit other uses of force.
Communities with disproportionate numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths have other health struggles.
The Dane County Board on Thursday took a first step toward declaring racism a public health crisis. "First and foremost we have to recognize that there is an issue," Supervisor Shelia Stubbs said.
The announcement comes as protests nationwide, including in Madison, in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, continue into their third week.
The projectile launchers, which fire sponge rounds, were used against protesters during the first two days of demonstrations and unrest in Madison.
The Madison Police and Fire Commission's attorney said two proposed police oversight measures could conflict with the commission's authority.
Many of the measures were initiated after the shooting of Tony Robinson in 2015.
While much of the meeting was focused on police reform policy, the end turned into an emotional conversation about race and community healing.
Rhodes-Conway said in a statement Wednesday she "failed to center" a message of racial justice in a seemingly private video she sent to police expressing gratitude and sympathy.
In a statement Tuesday, Reyes said she will now support removing school resource officers from the high schools and plans to form a committee "to pursue a viable alternative to SROs in our buildings."
Day 10 of protests against police violence in Madison featured a grill out and block party, public defenders marching for black lives and "DEF…
Acting Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl said around 15 officers marched alongside protesters Sunday because they are also angry about George Floyd's death.
The crowd of around 100 attorneys took a knee outside of the Dane County Courthouse for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd's neck.
Madison Teachers Inc. is reversing its stance on school resource officers, but is only calling for their removal if 33 new support staff positions are added at the high schools.
The march was yet another gathering of its kind in Madison and across the nation protesting police brutality and white supremacy after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
Temporary paintings on plywood covering windows have turned the street into a pop-up gallery that is drawing crowds and making a statement in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing.
A survey of 100 of the 152 businesses on the street indicates that about 40 likely won't reopen.
As a "week of action" in Madison after the police custody death of George Floyd wraps up, three organizing groups vowed Saturday to keep pursuing the abolition, and not reform, of current policing structures.
By the thousands, citizens of Madison and surrounding communities have hit the streets every day — and often well into the night — for the las…
Day seven of protests against police violence in Madison was a celebration of Breonna Taylor's life. Organizers hosted a barbecue and party at James Madison Park.
The seventh day of protests in Madison honored the birthday of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 13. …
“These kids are the organizers,” said Ebony Anderson-Carter, 29. “This ain’t about me. It’s about them.”
The list is not comprehensive, as police continue to use video and other evidence to investigate crimes committed over the three nights.
"The Guard, I think, has done exactly what we asked them to do," Evers said.
On the fifth night of demonstrations in Downtown Madison, hundreds gathered at the top of State Street to celebrate and remember unarmed black people killed by police officers.
Also at the event, the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County said it would hire 75 "peace keepers" to de-escalate tension with protesters and police.
The bill would ensure each law enforcement agency in the state has a use of force policy that meets certain requirements.
City Council members condemned the death of George Floyd, refused to extend a state of emergency and curfew, and moved to secure more oversight on the Madison Police Department
For three nights, business on and around State Street in Downtown Madison have been sitting ducks for those who have taken advantage of the up…
Following peaceful daytime protests, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway urges protesters to "stay home," and not engage in looting and other destructive behaviors.
People began looting and damaging State Street stores and other property just before 1 a.m. Tuesday.
For a second day in a row, protesters shut down John Nolen Drive in Madison as part of a demonstration against the police killing of George Fl…
Police reported there were multiple break-ins and looting at stores outside the Downtown as well.
Anti-police protests in Madison continued for a third day, with a crowd marching Downtown and shutting down John Nolen Drive. Local organizers…
Police were trying to stop looters from shattering glass at the restaurant Teddywedgers, 101 State St., and Tobacco Mart, 103 State St.
“This vandalism, all this other stuff is ridiculous,” Murphy said. “It makes no sense to me.”
Madison Downtown business owners found themselves cleaning up again Monday after protesters for a second night broke windows, looted businesse…
The driver was able to drive away and has not been apprehended, but several people took photos that have been shared with police, the center said.
A second night of tear gas and broken windows gripped Madison on the Capitol Square.
Hundreds of people defied Madison's curfew Sunday night and clashed with police Downtown, bringing more vandalism and tear gas for a second ni…
For a second night in a row, protesters clashed with police in Downtown Madison following a peaceful protest against the death of George Floyd…
Volunteers swept broken glass, scrubbed graffiti and helped city workers right toppled planters along the pedestrian mall, where Madison police said about 75 businesses were looted or damaged during the riot, in which a police squad car was torched.
A cleanup effort was underway Sunday morning on State Street where Madison police say approximately 75 businesses were damaged, looted or both.
A crowd of more than 1,000 people gathered peacefully on the state Capitol grounds in Madison on Saturday to condemn the death of George Floyd…
Madisonians took stock of damage and cleaned up Sunday after a night of destruction and looting in Downtown Madison. A peaceful protest Saturd…
There were signs early Sunday that the violence was spreading into other parts of the city.
A peaceful demonstration in Downtown Madison on Saturday to condemn the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis turned destructive later on State…
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