Alex Gee: “Madison is at a ‘tipping point’”
“We have the wherewithal and we have goods. The question is: Do we have the will to change this on our watch?” Alex Gee asked the overflow crowd that packed Fountain of Life Church Feb. 15 for an exciting event he organized to kick off efforts to improve the quality of life for minorities in Madison. “C'mon, Madison. This isn't Flint, [Mich.]. This isn't Gary, [Ind.]. This isn't Detroit. This isn't Oakland. This is Madison, Wisconsin!”
About 600 people filled the Fountain of Life sanctuary and packed the overflow room where people were watching on TV. The crowd included community members, business and nonprofit leaders, educators, elected officials, activists and others interested in hearing Gee talk about the movement he created from his “Justified Anger” article that was published as a Capital Times cover story in December.
Patrick Sims, interim vice provost and chief diversity officer at UW-Madison, said the university is committed to partnering with the coalition’s efforts. He introduced Dr. Alex Gee at the event.
“Rev. Dr. Alex Gee has been a long-standing community member here in the city of Madison. He has been invested in issues that affect our community — not just African Americans or Latinos. He's been passionate about these issues for a long, long time. Everything happens in its season; and we're in a season right now where we need leaders and individuals who are able to rally the troops, galvanize us, and give us clear vision for our next steps and set of actions.”
Gee was overwhelmed looking at the size of the crowd as he approached to speak.
“I had to make sure that this wasn't my funeral when I first walked in!” Gee told the packed crowd. “This is amazing. I appreciate you all. For a person who wrote an article about being angry, you all made it hard for a brother to be mad!”
Outside of the church, traffic was backed up down Badger Road all the way to Park Street as the parking lots of Fountain of Life, Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development, the old car wash, and Burger King were overflowing. A highway sign directed people to park at the Villager Mall where they could take a shuttle to the town hall meeting.
“We living in a world of turmoil. It's tough. Racial disparities are awful,” Gee said. “We are at ground zero for so many issues concerning African-American men. But if we can do this in February. If we can gather at the Villager Mall and walk up the hill. If we can park at Burger King and the car wash and walk up here just to be a community, we can get through this!”
Gee said Madison is at a “tipping point” when it comes to racial disparity.
“This is not a black problem to be solved by black people,” Gee said. “These solutions must be shared and be solved by all of us together, I know we’re skeptical. I can feel it in the room. Let me tell you what’s going to be different: You. Me. We're here together.
“We’ve had these talks and gatherings [before], but not like this. Not at this settings,” Gee continued. “Not with the ideas and the mandates and the agendas that we are setting. It hasn't been like this. So I want to believe in a beautiful Madison, and I know you do, too. So we’re going to work together to do this.”
Unitd States Sen. Ron Johnson was in attendance, along with several other elected officials including Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney and Madison school board members and school board candidates.
Gee announced that the driving force in his movement would be a coalition of black community leaders who will work together to set an agenda addressing systemic issues in education, mass incarceration, and employment. “I've been working to build this coalition with some strong folks who are brilliant men and women. I respect them. I love them. I trust them,” Gee said.
Gee asked the coalition members to come up and stand behind him as he spoke. They included Keetra Burnette and Kaleem Caire, both of the Urban League of Greater Madison, Rev. Lilada Gee of Lilada’s Livingroom, Lisa Peyton-Caire of the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, Patrick Yates of Fountain of Life Covenant Church, and Michael Johnson of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County.
“Give us 18 to 24 months to set metrics to build a strong coalition [and] to build strong allies in our broader community [with] our white brothers and sisters and our Latino brothers and sisters and our Asian brothers and sisters. We will take strong steps towards greater collaboration,” Gee said.
“We need you to get involved individually, too,” he added. “This is not going to be the black community's struggle. We need you as individuals to get on board, to get on committees, to work together and to do your part.”