“I love the fact that the Unity Picnic is not a whole lot of serious stuff. It’s relaxing,” says Dr. Ruben Anthony, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison. “We face so many challenges with the kind of work that we do at the Urban League. We’re always fighting for something or fighting for somebody.

“Even some of the people that we often fight with will be out there,” Anthony adds, laughing. “It’s a family affair. I like block parties and picnics. I grew up in New York and we always had block parties and picnics and things like that. I like coming together. I like to see people outside of their professional places.”

Anthony and his crew at ULGM are gearing up for the 5th annual Urban League Unity Picnic, which will be held Saturday, July 20, noon-5 p.m. at the Urban League of Greater Madison, 2222 S. Park St. The Unity Picnic is a family-friendly event with food, music, dancing, bounce houses, dunk tanks, face painting, and more.

“This will be number 5. We started in March of 2015. We coined it the ‘Unity Picnic’ shortly after the Tony Robinson incident,” Anthony tells Madison365. “I thought that there was so much serious conversation going on that we all needed to let our hair hang down and have an event where we could actually come together and not talk about the challenges we were having and just have a relaxing time, eat, listen to music. We wanted to have a block party. 

“For me, the Unity Picnic is a community development-type of activity,” he adds. “It’s a chance to get to know each other a little better and just have some fun together.”

From 11 a.m.-noon on Saturday, ULGM will have a closed event where they recognize their stakeholders.

“This year, we’re going to recognizing [former Madison mayor] Paul Soglin and [Madison School District Superintendent] Jen Cheatham for their work,” Anthony says. “We will also recognize the Department of Workforce Development and SSM Health for recent grants they have awarded to the Urban League. Also, we’re going to be introducing the new UW band director Corey Pompey.” 

Corey Pompey
(Photo courtesy of UW-Madison)

The Unity Picnic party in the parking lot will start at noon. “Usually, 600-700 people come through,” Anthony says. “It’s usually pretty packed throughout most of the day. Kinfolk will be our primarily main stage entertainment. DJ Ace [Vanessa McDowell] will be there performing. There will be double dutch competitions and a dunk tank. 

“Yes, I’ll be in there,” Anthony adds, laughing. “[Police] Chief [Mike] Koval will be in there and [Mt. Zion] Pastor Marcus Allen and a bunch of other people will get in the dunking tank, too.”

There will be functional movement demonstration and exercises with Haywood Simmons and the Morgridge Center Science Van and Agility Ladder. Food will be provided by BP Smokehouse and Kipp’s Kitchen free to the community.

Taking place in the heart of Madison’s south side, there are typically a lot of southside people at the event. But Anthony stresses that it’s an event for the whole community. 

“Yeah, it’s most definitely for everybody. People come from all over the city,” Anthony says. “This is one of those events that is crosscultural where you’ll see people from all walks of life from the north side, the east side, the west side. It’s a community-wide event. It’s a lot like Dane Dances in that it’s very diverse.”

Last year’s Urban League Unity Picnic
(Photo by Hedi Lamarr Photography)

Like the Unity Picnic, Anthony himself is going on his fifth year as head of the Urban League.

“Everything is going well at the Urban League right now,” he says. “In a few weeks, we’re going to be opening up our Employment Training Center at the old Griff’s Restaurant on the southwest side of town. That’s a partnership we have with the city of Madison. That’s going really well. 

“One of our biggest concerns right now is affordable housing and I’m really looking to be part of partnership and part of a solution for affordable housing and putting homeownership within reach of regular, hard-working people,” he adds.

But no more talking business, the annual Urban League Unity Picnic is a time to relax.

“We are going to put our work and our worries aside for the day and just have fun at the Unity Picnic,” Anthony says. “It’s going to be another great event.”


The 5th annual Urban League Unity Picnic will be held Saturday, July 20, noon-5 p.m. at the Urban League of Greater Madison, 2222 S. Park St, Ste 200. Volunteers are still needed for the event. If you can lend a hand, call 729-1225 or e-mail aschilcher@ulgm.org.