The Center for Black Excellence and Culture Announces $5 Million Fundraiser and Reveals Its Design

The Center for Black Excellence and Culture announced today that it has raised $5 million towards its fundraising campaign goal of $36 million – including a $2 million commitment from Summit Credit Union, the biggest donation in credit union history — to build a three-story, 65,000-square-foot cultural center on six acres in South Madison, slated to open in 2023.

‘My heart is overjoyed,’ founder Reverend Dr Alex Gee told a news conference outside Fountain of Life Baptist Church, where he is a pastor and which is adjacent to the Center site. .

The Center also unveiled the architectural renderings and floor plan of the center. Designed by Rafeeq Assad of JLA Architects, the Center will include a 220-space car park, two theaters, a fitness center, an art studio and gallery, a recording studio, a coworking space, spaces for young people and seniors, offices of the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development and more.

“As members of the black community, our concerns have not always been widely addressed, but my team and I have listened carefully to what (black people) have said to make this community great for you and your children” , Gee said. “What would help us heal from recent and past atrocities and what would make Madison a wonderful community for current and future black people. And you told us that we want our children to be seen as leaders to be developed and not as problems to be studied and solved. You said we wanted a space for networking, innovation, education, healing, performance, creation and belonging.

While the initial fundraising campaign saw black people make the first donations to create a foundation, Gee said, “The Center needs to have the support of Madison’s white business and philanthropic community.

“We have had enough studies. The black community needs to know that the wider white and philanthropic community is listening and supporting us. We need that momentum to manifest financially in a major way, the same way you supported downtown for everyone, the same way you supported clean lakes for everyone, in one place that you have supported great cycling routes for many of us,” he said.

The initial First Dollar campaign attracted more than 300 donations from black people or winners, said fundraising campaign chair Frances Huntley Cooper.

“The results were nothing short of historic and inspiring,” she said. “A testament to the power of this movement and how quickly the community galvanized behind the center, black professionals, culture leaders. And so many others lend their time and expertise at all levels of this project.

Capital campaign chair Frances Huntley Cooper announced that $5 million has been raised so far. Photo by Robert Chappell.

A number of major gifts moved the needle on the $36 million needed to build the center zero debt, Gee said, including $2 million from Summit Credit Union.

“It’s time for all of us to join visionary and inspiring leaders like Dr. Gee in transforming Madison from one of the worst cities for black people to one of the best,” said Summit Credit Union CEO Kim Sponem. . “For businesses, the center will help us retain our black talent, recruit talent from other fields, and make Madison the welcoming and supportive place it wants to be, but struggles to become. .”

Additional donations include $500,000 each from the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation and the Jerome W. Frautschi Foundation, $125,000 from Marla and Larry Frank, $100,000 from UW Health, $100,000 from M3 and $100,000 from an anonymous donor. The City of Madison also allocated $250,000 and Dane County allocated $810,000. Additionally, Rep. Mark Pocan was able to allocate $1 million in federal funding, pending legislative approval.

Gee said it was “very, very significant” that the Center opened almost exactly 10 years after the Race to Equity report, which shocked many Madisonians by showing that racial disparities are worse here than in almost any other city. the United States. This report prompted Gee to respond with an essay titled “Justified Anger”, which has become the name of an organization providing anti-racism education as well as other services.

“It’s one thing to listen. We listened and we backed down, but I feel the community is ready to respond,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot over the past 10 years, and I believe those who had a hard time believing racial disparities were real now believe it. And I feel that this is an opportunity for us not only to be a community that is riding on those great laurels of social activity and social action in the sixties and early seventies. It’s a chance to respond to a national crisis right now. And I’m proud of our community for taking the conversation a step further into action.

The Center is built in the middle of a revitalization of the south side; The Urban League of Greater Madison’s (ULGM) Black Business Hub is also slated to open in 2023, and ULGM has programs in place to help Black families own homes in the area.

“I have lived, worked, sold newspapers or owned property in South Madison for the past half century. And I have never been prouder to be a member or part of the South community. of Madison,” Gee said. “I love that it’s happening here and… I’m just happy with the role that we can play.”

Gee said it took him a while to get his head around raising $36 million, but every donation counts.

“I have been running a non-profit organization for 30 years. We can do a lot with five or seven thousand people,” he said. “($36 million) is a big number, but that number is proportional to the problem.”

Anyone wishing to make a donation can do so at TheBlackCenter.org.

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