Progress for black women rooted in love

Fresh off a morning radio appearance where she spoke to listeners about manifesting their destiny and living their purpose, Sabrina Madison explained that she works hard in support of black women because she is “really, really driven by wanting black women to be better. To be more whole. To be more able to accomplish their goals.”

Known as a trailblazer and strong proponent for the advancement of black women, in October 2017 Sabrina unveiled her plans for a new initiative with a three-month, $150,000 fundraising goal. Sabrina’s new Progress Center for Black Women will be home to professional development opportunities and cooperative spaces for women of color in Madison. Sabrina also hopes the center will serve as an accelerator for black women in leadership, as well as a collaborative space for black entrepreneurs. She wants “more opportunities for black women — black women creating their own opportunities and not necessarily being pulled down by every system that we've known forever that surrounds us.”

Through the Progress Center for Black Women, Sabrina also plans to raise $50,000 to initiate a small-dollar lending program geared toward women of color. She’ll work with a credit union to facilitate lending and credit rating restoration. Sabrina is hoping to have the funds raised, center opened, and programs started by February 2018 — Black History Month.

I have no doubt that Sabrina will accomplish her goals, especially with the help of a legion of supportive women (and men) throughout the state of Wisconsin and beyond. She is driven and laser-focused about the needs of our community. In November, I talked with Sabrina, known by many as Heymiss Progress, to find out the inspiration for the Progress Center for Black Women. Here’s what she had to say about the reason she is so passionate about black women.

Sabrina Madison (SM): By me resolving issues for other people, I’m also resolving them for myself. I walk into spaces where I don’t see women who look like me. And it was really just frustrating. So that’s why I ended up creating the Black Women’s Leadership Conference. There hasn’t been a week that has passed by that a black woman hasn’t reached out. Whether she’s facing eviction, or she doesn’t have enough money for food, or car repairs, or even washing machine repairs. Those emails just don’t stop.

Deborah Biddle (DB): How did the Progress Center for Black Women come into being?

SM: It was me paying attention to who is coming to me on a regular basis. Who is having the most impact by me just being out here trying to make entrepreneurial moves? It was always this group of women. And I was very conscious. It was a deliberate and conscious decision to center on black women — to say this is the Progress Center for Black Women. Not to say everyone won’t benefit, but here locally, again, I get very irritated by some things where every time you turn around we hear all the negative facts about being black in Wisconsin or black in Dane County. And then I go to other meetings where it’s like, “Madison is the best place to live. It’s one of the top 10 cities. It’s an entrepreneurial hub. Yadda, yadda, yadda.” That happens to me all in one day. In the morning it’s all great, in the evening it’s all horrible for black folk. So, how can we get to the point where it’s the positive story throughout the day, especially for black women with families? For me, it was very intentional to say, “These are the inequities we’re dealing with. These are the wage gaps. This is why we are in eviction court. These are the reasons. I’m going to center the work here, so these women can be more whole.”

DB: Give me three outcomes for betterment in the quality of life for black women as a result of the Progress Center for Black Women?

SM: So, the first one is just a more holistic way of black women dealing with themselves and what they’re experiencing in the workplace. I’m always having conversations with people who are contacting me throughout the year who have attended the Black Women’s Leadership Conferences. What ends up happening is that they say, “I have not been in an environment like this in my time in Madison.” Or, “I’ve connected with this woman and we’ve continued …” There was one group of girlfriends — well, they're girlfriends now — but I came to find out they had been going to the same gym and for whatever reason not saying hello to each other. They saw each other at the conference, started talking together, and now they’re talking and working out together regularly. So, one of the biggest outcomes for me is being more whole, being more apt to say hello to other black women in passing, being more apt to build relationships with other black women, and to reach out to other black women. 

Another thing I sort of sneakily hope is that we get to a point where we can admit that we have some of the same struggles. That everything is not okay. We’re not all fine and perfect, and we need help. I’d also like to see workplaces that are less toxic for black women and where black women show more ownership in the spaces in which they’re employed. I get the feeling that women are doing a lot of just going in, doing their job, taking it, and sucking it up — like we get taught to do — and then going home, suffering, and never getting the help that we need. I don’t want the women to feel lost in that process. We are here to help each other.

The last one is that the rest of the community begins to value black women. Even today, there is still this thing in the air in which black women are not valued, that we are not considered. We have been looked down upon. We weren’t thought to have had the ability to grow, even at lower managerial level jobs. So, I really want the rest of this community to have a different level of value for black women. People should not call just us because they need that one black woman on a panel. Call us because you value our expertise — and pay us accordingly. Also, when people think about or talk about black leadership here in Madison, they typically talk about black males. I also want to create pathways to leadership for black women. Black leadership includes black men and black women. When you think about who is getting funded, who is actually running some of the bigger nonprofits, they are black and they are male. But there are always a few — a group of black women who are right there with them running it. However, we don’t see them and we don’t credit them. Just as much as we see Dr. Anthony, or much as we see Mike, we should also see Deb or Sabrina or Camilla. It should be a healthy balance.



DB: So, when you think beyond what it looks like for black women as employees, when you think about the business environment, how will the Progress Center for Black Women help entrepreneurs, or just business overall in Madison?

SM: The biggest thing that I’ve been able to be successful at is helping black women have visibility. Before I moved here, before I did the conference and the expos, I don’t remember picking up a magazine or a newspaper and reading about something that a black woman started. Now, on any given week, someone is reaching out to me to work with entrepreneurs. It’s creating the opportunity and providing visibility.

DB: So, if a young black girl walked up to you and asked for advice, what would your best tip be?

SM: Whoever you are right now, when you’re alone, ask yourself, “Do you love yourself? Do you like who you are?” Get to a point where when you’re by yourself, you actually love and like who you are. Because if you’re not there first, all this other stuff is not necessarily going to lead to an altogether beautiful outcome. If you can just get to that point first and do that work first, the rest of your life will be just beautiful. And then, only deal with the people who you feel love you. Once you love yourself, you can get better at recognizing what love looks like. Whether we’re talking about business relationships or we’re talking about personal relationships, if something doesn’t feel genuine, just steer clear.

DB: What is the single most important idea you want to convey about the work you do and about the Progress Center for Black Women?

SM: That it’s rooted in love. Absolutely. I’m always reminding myself to do the work — to do the work rooted in love first. Then I’m coming at it from a place where I care about the whole person, the whole neighborhood, the whole community, and not just for selfish reasons. The biggest thing is that it’s rooted in love, and from there that means I’m not creating something that’s just about me, it’s not about just rewarding myself, it’s not just about dollars. It’s about wanting these women to be whole.

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