by Ray Allen
Kaleem Caire — a name that seems to bring out the best and the worst of Madison. The outgoing executive director of the Urban League of Greater Madison, for many, is a visionary who dared to challenge the community status quo. For others, he is a radical who saw demons where they saw angels.
I don’t know what Kaleem did or didn’t do to expedite his departure or what health factors were involved, but one thing that I am absolutely certain of — he has done this community an invaluable service by forcing us to look in the mirror and begin an earnest discussion about how we support our community of color and begin developing opportunities for our young people.
It is remarkable that the news media have focused exclusively on an internal Urban League accounting review that may or may not have been a factor in Kaleem’s departure rather than his accomplishments and value. Even after the Board chairman announced all accounting issues had been “resolved to the satisfaction” of its esteemed board of directors, the news media continue to hound Kaleem. Let’s be clear and focus. The ULGM accomplishments in the past four years are laudable and critical to the evolution of the greater Madison community.
It seems there is an intent to discredit Kaleem and the board. I hope I’m wrong. Kaleem is not perfect. He, like many of us, has flaws. But in this case, the Urban League Board has addressed whatever concerns they may have had with Kaleem and are moving forward with a search for a replacement.
Focusing on the individual is a grave disservice to the organization —no one is bigger than the League. The review of the Urban League record during Kaleem’s tenure shows an expansion of service from 183 to 1731 individuals. While controversial, his avocation of Madison Prep brought to light the failure of the Madison Metropolitan School District in educating black children.
He energized the black community and other communities of color and educated the majority about issues of racial achievement, incarnation, and unemployment.
No dynamic leader worth his or her salt who pushes an aggressive agenda for change does so without making enemies. I believe the larger community is satisfied that the ULGM Board has responsibly reviewed its accounting practices, found mistakes made by Caire, addressed those issues by revising its policies and sought redress where appropriate.
In a town which revels in its liberal status the facts show that for people of color, particularly African Americans, the quality of life is less than desirable. At a time our community is trying to have an honest conversation on race, is this the discussion we want to spend time on?
This city needs to move forward addressing the truly important issues plaguing our community. Kaleem remains a valuable resource to ULGM. This is not a man who deserves scorn and ridicule for all of his accomplishments. We owe him a debt of gratitude for his service.
My hope for the future of Madison and the ULGM is a continuation of innovative ideas which challenge the norm and affect positive change. The needs of the organization truly exceed the issues of the individual.
Ray Allen is publisher of The Madison Times.