The greater Madison community lost one of its great community leaders June 20 when Wayne Strong passed away at the age of 62. The former Global University criminal justice program chair and longtime Madison police officer and lieutenant was well-known in Madison as the father figure and mentor for generations of young people and families on Madison’s south side where he was the co-director of the Southside Raiders Youth Football and Cheerleading Program. Throughout the decades, Strong had coached and mentored hundreds of youth facing some of the most difficult challenges imaginable.
Jamaal Eubanks, the founder of Eubanks Solutions LLC and co-creator of Pivotal Transition mentoring program, had Strong as a coach during his childhood and looked back fondly on how Strong stayed in his life through adulthood.
“Coach Strong was more than a coach as he kept relationships going through the years with the young people as they got older – he hasn’t been my coach in 24 years. He continued the lost societal art of accountability and he did it without being harsh. I loved the way he and I would have conversations via phone or in-person about everything – from fatherhood to the challenges in the community we live in as well as the schools.” Eubanks tells Madison365. “He was a really genuine person and, unfortunately, I think it’s rare these days to find genuine people. Coach Strong will be missed but I am so glad that we continued having a relationship as I became an adult.”
Strong’s wife, Terri Strong, says that her husband was a great family man.
“Even though he was involved in all of this stuff that he was out in the community doing, he was a family man. He cared greatly for his kids, cared greatly for his grandchildren. They were a priority for Wayne,” Strong remembers. “I mean, he would have meetings and would be upset if he missed the grandkids’ karate class. He was a wonderful provider, father, and husband.
The Strongs have two children, Byron and Jessica, and three grandchildren. They were coming up on 36 years of marriage in October, Terri Strong says. They had been members of S.S. Morris Community African Methodist Episcopal Church on Madison’s east side since the early ‘90s.
“He had a great faith. He grew in his faith over the years. [Former] Pastor [Greg] Armstrong and [curent] Pastor [Karla] Garcia were really instrumental in his growth in faith,” Strong says. “He always loved the Lord, but just to have that understanding of what that love meant, and what that love does for you. That’s what he was searching for and that’s what he got from S.S. Morris.
“We have a wonderful church family. Everybody at church loved Wayne Strong. He was on the trustee board and a steward. He was he was Pastor Garcia’s right-hand man pretty much for for just for everything,” Terri Strong remembers. “She could call him in the middle of the night for something and he would get up and do it. They had a lot of great respect for each other. And, as I said, his faith was deepened as he worked in the church. The church family was our second family.”
Rev. Garcia says that Strong, who served as the pro tem of the Trustee Board and also served as a steward was her “close and trusted friend” and “the backbone of the church.”
“The shock and sadness of his passing are overwhelming and crippling. Wayne Strong was not only a member of my church, but he was also like a friend and a brother. I often referred to him as my ‘right-hand man,'” Garcia tells Madison365. “There are several dictionary definitions of a ‘right-hand man.’ Some examples include: the person who you regularly depend on to help you; a trusted helper; ones primary or trusted assistant; the person who supports and helps you the most. The Urban Dictionary says it is ‘someone you need when you are out-gunned, out-manned,out-numbered and out-planned!’
“Wayne was that person to me. Being a pastor often requires that you are available 24 hours a day which makes it very difficult and tedious to be able to address the multitude of issues that arise,” she continues. “Wayne was always available to help, assist and provide the support need to operate and run the church. He was extremely loyal, kind, supportive, innovative, creative and dedicated to serving the church and each member of our congregation.”
Garcia adds that every pastor needs someone like Wayne Strong to provide the needed and necessary support, help, concern and understanding.
“We have yet to experience the impact of his absence and his passing. His passing has definitely left a hole in our hearts that is filled with sadness and disbelief,” she says. “Only God will be able to comfort and guide us during this time. We have definitely experienced the presence of an angel that has left us way too soon!”
Strong was a graduate of Racine Case High School and attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire where he earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 1982.
Strong joined the Madison Police Department’s recruitment class in 1989 and as an officer, worked in a number of different capacities within MPD before working his way up to lieutenant.
In 1994, he started to work in the south side neighborhood as their Baird-Fisher neighborhood officer. “That was, by far, my most rewarding experience as a police officer … working with the community and being a liaison between the police and community,” Strong told Madison365 in an article back in 2015.
Even as an African American, southside community members didn’t always readily accept Strong. “They wanted to know how much I really cared about the community I was working in,” Strong remembers. “So breaking that barrier – what I call that blue barrier – and people seeing me through that uniform was important. That I was there to serve and protect but also be an advocate for those in the community working with different neighborhood groups and associations and civilian groups around South Madison.”
Stephanie Bradley-Wilson was a member of the Madison Police Department for over 30 years and a former Madison police lieutenant who remembers Strong fondly from back in the day when there were not a whole lot of non-white Madison police officers, or lieutenants, for that matter.
“Wayne was not only passionate about many social issues but a fun-loving, kind and compassionate man,” Bradley-Wilson tells Madison365. “He had a heart of gold and always looked out for other people. Wayne was a Christian, loving husband, and father. I was proud to work with Wayne for over 20 years.”
Gloria Reyes, a former MMSD school board president who is now the CEO of Briarpatch Youth Services, was a police officer and a lieutenant for the Madison Police Department back in the day, too.
“Lt. Wayne Strong was my lieutenant early on in my career with the Madison Police Department. I remember him as a compassionate leader who cared so much about our community and those he supervised,” Reyes tells Madison365. “I continued to work with Lt. Strong after he retired, and we conducted Badge of Equity Training throughout Dane County. He had such an impact on the students. What I didn’t realize is that he was teaching me along the way, as well.
“I spoke to him a few weeks before he passed about another project. He said, ‘I will support you 100 percent.'” Reyes adds. “He was so committed to building bridges between our law enforcement community and communities of color. I will miss my friend Wayne. A tremendous loss for our community. Rest in peace, Lt. Wayne Strong.”
After 24 years of service to MPD where he would earn a Medal of Valor and Life Saving Award on the force, Strong became the Globe University criminal justice program chair and the director of workforce development at Urban League of Greater Madison.
In 2013, Strong ran for the Madison Metropolitan School District school board with the support of Richard Brown, his friend and longtime fellow coach of the Southside Raiders.
“I’ve known Wayne for many years working with the Southside Raiders but I really got to know him when I was his campaign manager during his first run for MMSD School Board,” Brown tells Madison365. “ We (Wayne, Southside Raiders co-director Isadore Knox and myself) would meet sometimes late at night working on strategy and literature pieces. I ran many campaigns but Wayne’s campaign was so easy because everyone knew and respected him. We came so close to winning that there was a recount.
“We didn’t get all the endorsements and everybody counted us out but by running a grassroots campaign, but we got both the endorsements from the Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times,” Brown adds. “That was on one of the best times of my life spending it with my two friends. We were like brothers.”
Strong lost that particular school board race to Dean Loumos — which was one of the closest races in MMSD School Board history — by 278 votes. The contest wasn’t settled until a week after the polls closed. Loumos still to this day looks upon that race fondly.
“When I first ran for office I was told by a longtime board member that if I was lucky, I’d meet some really great people,” Loumos tells Madison365. “When Wayne and I found out we were running for the same seat, we both were disappointed because we soon found out that we would have liked to both be on the board together. The community thought so too because out of over 40,000 total votes, I got 278 more. Throughout the following years we got to know each other even better and I completely supported him in his other efforts to get on the board. We had a lot in common, even growing up in Racine.
“Damn,” Loumos adds, “A good man gone too soon.”
Strong would have unsuccessful bids for school board in 2014 and 2020, but all the while still remained strong in his community and in his commitment to making Madison a great place to live for everybody. Over the years, Strong was a staple at community events and fundraisers, had done extensive volunteer work in the community, and had served on many boards of directors or advisory boards, including at Just Dane, The Road Home Dane County, the YWCA, and a state racial disparities task force.
“He supported his community and he made sacrifices for his community. I couldn’t even keep up with everything he was involved in and all of the boards he was on. Those were priorities for him and he chose to be on those very carefully because they had to align with what he saw as doing good for the greater good,” Terri Strong says.