Building a home for Black culture in Madison
Culture is not a foreign concept to the business community. In fact, many successful executives invest heavily in promoting a corporate culture in which employees feel a sense of connection, representation, and pride. Why? Because businesspeople know that how people feel about the company they work for will determine how they will perform and thrive at work. Black culture is missing in our community. This isn’t created by a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) plan, it is created by Black people.
DEI efforts can fail when we ignore the fact that corporate culture is just one facet of a Black person’s life. What happens at 5 p.m. when employees leave their job and become part of the community? They seek ways to feel connection, representation, and pride within the greater community. Where do they and their families go to experience Black culture? Where do Black children see and interact with role models who look like them?
Black professionals new to Madison often ask me, “Where do Black people hang out and meet each other?” The current spaces where Madisonians go to unwind, socialize, and be inspired aren’t places where Black or other non-white people see themselves represented. They are not places built by and for multicultural communities. As a result, Black people don’t feel a sense of home or connection to Madison, hence we leave.
A strong sense and celebration of Black history and culture is how Black people have survived horrendous racial events in this country. Culture means identity … which means worth … which means hope … which spawns the resilience that is needed for our survival. Strong Black communities must have a strong Black culture to sustain them.
The Center for Black Excellence and Culture, on course to open in 2024, is being created to help Madison live up to its reputation of being one of the best cities in America in which to live for everyone. Hundreds of local Black influencers were asked: What would make Madison feel like a real home for you and your family? The response was a space to heal, educate, network, innovate, nurture, create solutions, and inspire.
This is excellence — the absence of pathetic and pejorative narratives. This is culture — the presence of a Black-created, counter-narrative of perseverance, pride, and a rich, vibrant history of success and hope. This is the mission of the center! Only a culture of excellence and legacy can, as shown in history, sustain and catapult us in society. Supporting the work of the center can help accomplish this.
There is a real need for Black people to feel represented in culture. The center aims to create the space and pathways for pride and motivation so that the next time Madison is recognized as one of the best places in America to live — Black people will be able to say “Amen!”
Dr. Alexander Gee is the CEO and founder of The Center for Black Excellence and Culture
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