Interview with Hedi Rudd
by A. David Dahmer
Do you need to know what’s going on in our community? Ask Hedi Rudd. She knows. Because she’s everywhere. And it seems like she knows everybody.
“It’s exciting to be out in the community so often,” Rudd says. “I get to go to so many events and network and to talk with people. And, most of the time I don’t have any agenda but to take your picture.”
As development and events manager at Urban League of Greater Madison, photographer for UMOJA Magazine, and the founder and owner of Hedi LaMarr Photography, Rudd is part of the many events that makes Madison — especially south Madison — a special place.
“People come up to me all the time and exclaim, ‘You’re everywhere!’” Rudd tells The Madison Times in an interview at Manna Café and Bakery on Madison’s north side.
During the day, you can find her at the Urban League of Greatere Madison on South Park Street organizing events and creating different options for south Madison people when there wouldn’t normally be anything going on.
“It’s great to give the community something fun to do. Many times, there are not a lot of options for things to do that are culturally relevant,” Rudd says. “I love the partnership aspect, too. Most of the events that I do with the exception of the [ULGM Urban] Cabaret are low-budget. They come off because we’re able to get a number of partners together who bring things to the table.”
As project coordinator for the South Madison Promise Zone Initiative, which was inspired by the lessons from the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City, Rudd focused on helping to design a holistic place-based, cradle-to-career system of education, human service, health and wellness, employment and community-building opportunities to help families move out of poverty.
“I really enjoy when I can do a community event. Since the Promise Zone dissolved, we’ve really gained some traction in the community; some acknowledgement. We did a lot of great things,” she says.
The money for the South Madison Promise Zone grant ran out, but the momentum and the partnerships that the Urban League forged still remain. Lately, the focus of the Urban League has shifted to workforce development.
“While we no longer have the South Madison Promise Zone by name, I think the Urban League is still providing that hub for African-American communities and other communities where they know they can come and use the computers and get help with workforce-related issues. Our staff is awesome and we are here to help,’” Rudd says. “I do miss the more grassroots aspects of [the South Madison Promise Zone], but I think we have that potential to do more. Now that we are focusing on workforce, we need to get out and let more people know about the great things we are doing and workforce programs we offer.”
One of the favorite parts of her job, she says, is taking pictures at the workforce graduation ceremonies where the community gets to see and hear from the graduates. “Every single time I’m crying. It’s so powerful when you see somebody who has gone so far and is on the right path,” Rudd says. “You can see the difference from when somebody walks in the door on the first day to graduation. They’re just different people. They talk about the skills and the confidence they’ve gained.
“With employment, it’s often not only what you know; it’s who you know. And in the black community they are at such a disadvantage because there are not a lot of opportunities,” she adds. “So, we at the Urban League become the ‘who you know.’ We become that conduit. Employers come to us looking for good people that we can recommend.”
Rudd loves the small, fun events that she organizes for the community but she also does a tremendous job with Urban League’s big events: The Urban Cabaret, the MLK Breakfast, and the annual Diversity Summit, to name a few.
“I love that those events raise awareness of cultural opportunities and our talented local performers, students, and musicians,” Rudd says. “The big events are a lot of work, but when they are all done and you see how happy everybody is … it’s well worth it.”
Many people remember Rudd as the Study Circles on Race Coordinator for the City of Madison in the early 2000s which promoted positive race relations in the greater Madison community.
“I saw [former Mayor] Sue Bauman on a TV show and I e-mailed her some thoughts I had about race relations and she e-mailed me back and said, ‘Wow, I really like what you said. Would you consider joining this race task force?’” Rudd remembers.
Soon she was named Study Circles Coordinator where she led highly participatory small-group discussions that focused on ways to undo racism and improve race relations in the community.
“I would definitely do it again. I think the part where I have reservations is the political nature of it,” Rudd says. “I know that’s inherent … politics would be a part of it. I just wish that everybody saw that as a part of their job as a citizen to be engaged in race relations. I just don’t like the politics side of it. I feel like it should have been mandatory for people to go through Study Circles.”
Rudd spent six years in Las Vegas before returning to Madison in 2011 when Milele Chikasa Anana, publisher of UMOJA Magazine, asked her to write an article for her. “Then one day she asked me to go and take pictures. I just fell in love with that camera and the whole process of taking pictures,” Rudd remembers. “I was OK at first and then I took some really bad pictures at an event. [Milele] sat me down and printed out these really horrible pictures and she pointed out what was horrible about every single picture. It was painful. But after that I learned a lot from that one time and I really focused on making every single picture an artistic opportunity and focused on the art aspect of it.”
And now, photography has become a passion for Rudd. Her beautiful photos grace UMOJA, The Madison Times, and are popular on Facebook.
“You can tell when you take a picture of a person how that person feels about you and how they are feeling in that moment. And, thank God, I have mostly taken pictures of people who like me or are very happy in that moment,” Rudd smiles. “However, I have taken pictures of people who are not happy or don’t necessarily care for you, and let me tell you … it comes through!
“I love going to some of these community events that are very vanilla and very small but from my camera’s perspective it looks like it’s extremely colorful,” Rudd continues. “I get the biggest kick out of that. The fun part is making people feel like stars. That’s exciting to me. If I can make a lot of people in Madison feel very important, that’s the cool part for me.”
Rudd started her own photography business 6 months ago — Hedi LaMarr Photography. “I’m excited about the new business. It’s definitely fun. I like the [Adobe] Photoshop aspect of it. The editing process is important to me,” she says. “I know some photographers don’t think that’s fun. To be able to take a regular picture and turn it into a piece of art …that’s fun to me. ”
So, what does Rudd like best? Event planning, community building, photography, networking?
“Being a grandma to me is the coolest thing. Watching him [two-year-old Khali] grow and learn. I’m enjoying it so much … just sitting with my grandson and reading with him,” Rudd says. “It’s part of breaking that cycle. It’s part of the work we do at the Urban League every day. It’s seeing it in your own place and space. There’s nothing better than that.”