The theme of this year’s Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce Icebreaker event is Prodigium, the Latin word that “prodigy” comes from. The highlight speaker — 14-year-old Verona High School student Ajani Carr — certainly fits the bill.
“(Prodigium) also means the sign of things to come,” GMCC President Zach Brandon tells Madison365. “When you think about AJ, he’s the perfect example of prodigium.”
Brandon says the original idea was to find “professionals who went to high school here and have left and gone on to have amazing careers and solve big problems at great companies.”
To that end, the Chamber landed Facebook design director Kaaren Hanson, a 1988 graduate of Madison Memorial, and former Onion editor and Upworthy founder Peter Koechley, who graduated from Madison West in 1999.
But something was still missing, Brandon recalls.
“We came to the realization that we didn’t have anything focused on the next generation,” Brandon says. “We knew we needed a speaker who would be able to highlight the future. I didn’t know where to begin on how to tackle that issue, finding the next generation of prodigies. My Facebook was open, and literally as I was thinking this, a friend request popped up from someone named Ajani Carr.
A few clicks later, Brandon knew the young founder of Building Bosses, which fosters young entrepreneurs, and Level Up, an after-school homework and performing arts club at Badger Rock Middle School, was the right fit.
“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” Brandon says.
“It’s a really exciting thing,” Carr says. He doesn’t want to give away the details of his speech, but, he says, “it’s generally about my story and how the color of my skin and the way I was brought into this world affected my life here in Madison and how people in Madison reached out and helped me. My speech is just about perseverance and how you get through obstacles in life and setbacks.”
Brandon says he expects the sold-out event at the Kohl Center to draw about 1,200 people — 750 business and community leaders at ticketed tables on the floor of the Center and another 350 – 450 students from Madison and Verona high schools as well as UW, Edgewood and Madison College in the stands.
“As talented and as exciting as the other speakers are, I think AJ will be the show,” Brandon says.