JUSTIFIED ANGER COALITION WELCOMES YOUNG AFRICAN AMERICAN PROFESSIONALS
by A. David Dahmer
“Our young black professionals in this town are a big part of the solution,” says Rev. Alex Gee. “I was really impressed with these young people. It was really clear that they were community conscious and had many concerns.”
Young African American professionals ages 21-40 gathered with Dr. Alex Gee and members of the Justified Anger Coalition for a VIP reception Sept. 25 in downtown Madison to talk about racial disparities and to plan and brainstorm ideas with Justified Anger Coalition team.
“In this [Justified Anger Coalition] process, I’ve been working on my framework and we’ve been figuring out that this is a segment of the African American community that needs to own and validate what we’re working on together. This really needs to be a community collective voice. And our younger people are so important in all of that,” Gee tells The Madison Times. “We want to know what our younger people want to see, what they want to participate in, what’s not working. It was just a great evening for conversation.”
The Justified Anger Coalition takes its name from an essay Gee wrote for The Capital Times about his experiences with racism and discrimination in Madison. The Coalition seeks solutions to racial disparities and works to empower black families in Madison.
The Justified Anger Coalition pulled everybody together for this event through social media and networking. “We invited people and they invited friends. I probably knew 2/3 of the people — there was a good 1/3 that I didn’t know,” Gee says. “That’s pretty impressive. Many of the people there didn’t know each other, either — I’d say half of the folks there didn’t know the other half. There was maybe a quarter of the people who knew everybody. Lots of people didn’t know each other. So, it was a great networking event.
“The young people ranged from police officer academy members to finance people to community activists to social entrepreneurs,” he adds. “We had all kinds of people at the gathering.”
The young black professionals got together at Boardman & Clark Law Firm on the Capitol Square. Wegner & Associates sponsored the evening. Dr. Gee and members of the Coalition informed the young black professionals of the work they were doing and found out what the young African American professionals wanted and needed.
“These young people stated their interest unequivocally in community change,” Gee says. “Their concern is that older African Americans will take off and not include them. They thanked me for making sure that the Justified Anger Coalition organizing team was really interested in what they had to offer.”
At the get-together, young black professionals networked and exchanged ideas and asked about possible leadership opportunities for them in the community along with possible mentoring opportunities.
“There was not a hint of ‘We’re doing our thing; you do yours,’” Gee says. “What that evening really showed me is that they have been waiting patiently. They even said, ‘We’ve been watching with a critical eye making sure that you didn’t presume to speak for the black community without asking us for our input.’”
Gee knows full well that Madison has historically struggled to retain young black professionals who come to the city for college and then quickly leave for Chicago, Milwaukee, or other big cities.
“That’s our fault … because we don’t inspire them,” Gee says. “If the community doesn’t entice their intelligence and their brilliance, then that’s our fault … and we need to step up our game. We want them to stay and to let them know that this is their city. They’re living here, they’re working here, and they’re paying taxes here — so why are we not making them feel like they are part?”
Gee told the young black professionals about his own experiences as a young black professional.
“I told them at the beginning of my remarks that I left my job at the university as a state employee because I wanted to make the community better for African American children and created Nehemiah [Community Development Corporation] when I was 28 years old,” Gee says. “I told the young people that I want to do for them what not many people did for me when I was 28. I know the isolation they are feeling — to have the qualifications to be a world-changer and nobody is asking you what your input is.
“I am who I am today because people brought me along and I know what it feels like to be these young people,” he adds. “So I’m asking these young people — help me change this world; let’s do it together.”
The Justified Anger Coalition will continue develop the young African American professionals group moving forward and count on them to one day become the leaders. “These young people are going to be our leaders and they are going to change the world. How do we support people who are changing the world in media, in finance, in business, and in education?” Gee says. “We don’t just want to ask them what they think; we want to groom them to be the leaders. We’re going to continue to build momentum. I’m very optimistic about what I see.”