Stephanie Bradley Wilson wins ATHENA Award
Photograph by Meghan Will Photography
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Stephanie Bradley Wilson, a retired law enforcement professional who created paths for other women in the police field, has won the 2019 ATHENA Award.
Bradley Wilson, now director of health equity and violence prevention with Common Wealth Development, received the honor March 12 during the 22nd annual ATHENA Leadership Awards Program ceremony, held at Monona Terrace.
Formerly known as simply the ATHENA Award program, the women’s leadership program is hosted by The Business Forum and celebrates women who demonstrate excellence and leadership in their professional endeavors, make significant contributions to the community, and help other women reach their leadership potential.
Described as the consummate leader, Bradley Wilson served in many roles with the Madison Police, including shift commander, public information officer, and lieutenant. Winning the 2019 ATHENA Award pays homage to a career that began in 1984, when only 20 percent of the police department’s employees were women, and fewer still were African-American women.
“My goal, each and every day, is to be a blessing to someone,” Bradley Wilson said after accepting the award. “I try not to let my ego be the boss of me because I believe we are all here on this planet for a particular reason, whether we recognize our place or not. It is not lost on me that I stand on the shoulders of many, including my parents, other relatives, and friends who strove fiercely to make people who look like me have a slice of the American dream.”
Bradley Wilson was nominated for the ATHENA Award by Karen Bednar, fund development director for Common Wealth Development. In support of her nomination, Bednar notes that Bradley Wilson, during her long tenure with Madison police, demonstrated exemplary creativity and initiative in community safety and well-being, all while advancing racial justice and community health. “Stephanie served with honor and her work is distinguished in over 50 recognitions in her employee file. Stephanie’s work ethic and leadership were important in serving the various neighborhoods in Madison and eventually as a commander of a district. She helped define community policing as it grew roots in Madison and spread nationally.”
In several community-policing roles, Bradley Wilson worked directly with the public. In the 1990s, there were four Madison neighborhoods identified with significant drug sales and gang activity, and she became the first neighborhood officer in the Magnolia-Cypress neighborhood. During that time period, as on-street drug sales occurred, Bradley Wilson worked with families through a social organization called Joining Forces for Families.
For Bradley Wilson, who holds a Master of Science degree in public administration from UW–Madison, connecting and collaborating with such organizations was integral to community policing. Asked how she broke through any lingering distrust people had of law enforcement, she spoke of the importance of building relationships.
“Developing relationships is the most important thing, and so is trying to be the accessible, friendly, and open person,” she states. “Sometimes my demeanor may not look like I’m a fun, open person, but I actually am, and so I do try to support people. That’s one of the basic tenets of any officer who is working in a community-policing effort. You have to have that mindset. It’s not you against them, it’s all of us working together to make improvements.”
Upon her retirement in January 2016, Bradley Wilson was hired by Common Wealth Development to be the project manager for the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Initiative, since renamed the Innovations in Community Based Crime Reduction. She now oversees racial justice and health equity in several areas, including affordable housing, workforce development, and community engagement. In some respects, she sees similarities between her new role and her career in law enforcement, especially relationship building. The main difference is that she’s now focused on the long-term impacts of poverty.
“At Common Wealth, I have the opportunity to deal with poverty issues in more of an ongoing fashion,” she explains. “It’s something that you can see on a daily basis in trying to make a difference; it’s understanding that it’s not just about programming, but really it’s about a lot of things that we don’t talk about. It’s about land use. It’s about zoning. It’s about how we ensure that a family is going to be stable. The parents can be employed, but they still have to have secure, healthy housing. They still need to be able to maintain their family’s standard of living so that they can stabilize themselves, thus helping to stabilize the neighborhood in which they live.”