Here are a few of our favorite answers from our popular 12 on Tuesday series with Madison’s thought leaders and influencers.
Stephanie Díaz de León: What does it mean to be a Latina in Mt. Horeb? Probably the same as it means to be Latina in Madison. It’s about changing expectations and first impressions. It’s also about exposing assumptions for what they are for us – one dimensional and often limited in their definitions as they would be for anyone. We are not just an election cycle or a struggle. We are full fledged members of your community – we are voters, we are taxpayers, we are business owners and we are patrons. We are students, we are teachers, we are art, we are food, we are part of history, we are part of the present and we have place here in the future – food trucks and all.
Jennifer Leavitt-Moy: What motivates you more, doubters or supporters? This is a great question and a little bit difficult. It really depends on the situation, and I think defining what a doubter is and what a supporter is provides context for me. A doubter is someone who, ultimately, is not interested in achieving the same goals I have (personally, professionally, community-wide, spiritually). Alternatively, a supporter is someone who is hoping to achieve similar goals. With that definition in mind: I think on a personal level I need supporters, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t provide constructive criticism. True supporters are able to question, challenge, disagree and refine my efforts. Conversely, a doubter is someone who is going to question, challenge, and disagree but with no intention of achieving resolution. I don’t mind doubters in a professional sphere, but recognize that we do not have similar goals, so their doubts may or may not factor in to the efforts I am putting forth. I try to avoid doubters on a personal and spiritual level. So, to answer the actual question: I am motivated by both, but ultimately find that supporters are more motivating so long as they are able to provide constructive criticism.
Aaron Perry: Why did you decide to start the Rebalanced-Life Wellness organization? I started Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association (RLWA) shortly after completing my first Ironman Triathlon. My vision from the beginning has always been, “To help lead Dane County as the Healthiest State for Black Men to live.” My original focus was targeting the Diabetic Community and after completing Ironman in 2005, I began receiving emails from Diabetics all over the world. Many were newly diagnosed with Diabetes and were afraid of the road ahead, while others struggled to manage their condition. The magnitude of emails and personal testimonies received, lead me to narrow my focus to Men of Color to counter the growing negative Health Disparities. In preparation for leading RLWA, I voluntarily served on the UW Health Diabetic Patient Advisory Committee, and followed that with volunteering on the UW Health Patient & Family Centered Care Committee. This experience helped me brand RLWA as a research based community health outreach organization. Under my leadership, RLWA has successfully coordinated signature health events such as the Soul Stroll, We’re Off to a Good Start Men’s Health Conference, Black Men Run Madison Chapter, and our New Men’s Health & Education Center. Since 2005, we have helped over 700 Men of Color change their lives for the better. RLWA is making a significant difference.
Sandy Morales: I don’t know too many young CEO’s in Madison in their mid-30s. What is your secret to rising so fast? It was a few things. First, I believe no matter what role you’re in, you have to deliver and do what you said you were going to do and do it well. These people stand out and that’s how you build trust and relationships within an organization. Second, ask for help or advice from experienced people who can become your mentors. There was a time where I didn’t know what the next step was going to be in my career (it wasn’t CEO at the time). So, I asked someone who I felt was at the top and she helped me figure out my next steps. Finally, you have to take risks. I took a risk by making the leap to BBBS from United Way and then again when I applied for the CEO job. I constantly ask myself “What do you have to lose?” and as long as I don’t have to sacrifice my integrity, and I have the skills, then I shouldn’t be afraid to put myself out there. It’s not a mindset that has come easy to me but the reality is that we’re all CEO’s of our own lives and we own our paths to get to that vision of how we see ourselves and what we want to be.
Keetra Burnette: What does it mean to be Black in Madison? After living and working in the City of Madison for slightly over 20 years, I would associate the following experiences with being Black in our city. Not only are these things that I have experienced, they are also common experiences of other Black Madisonians as well:
- Being Black in Madison has meant that when registering my children for school, I am automatically directed to the “free and reduced lunch line” without being asked any questions regarding my household income.
- Being Black in Madison has meant that I have often in situations where I have been not only the first and only Black person hired by a particular employer, but also the only person of color to ever work there.
- Being Black in Madison has meant that I have been excluded from social gatherings hosted by colleagues.
- Being Black in Madison has meant that I am expected to know every other Black person in our city.
- Being Black in Madison has meant that I shouldn’t accept being referred to as “Black,” but should instead prefer to be called “African American,” as was suggested in a scholarly article place on my desk by a white supervisor, with a friendly note instructing me to “Please Read!”
- Being Black in Madison has meant that my confidence is mistaken for arrogance.
- Being Black in Madison has meant that my ability to produce quality work is surprising.
- Being Black in Madison means that I live in a City that celebrates itself for being “a safe and healthy place for all of us to live, learn, work and play.” However, the reality for the majority of people who look like me is very different.
- Being Black in Madison means that I am often treated as if I were invisible and my voice muted.
- Being Black in Madison has meant that my efforts to call out implicit bias are interpreted to mean that I am calling someone a racist.
- Being Black in Madison means that I am often treated as if my point of view or perspective are not valid.
- Being Black in Madison means that I am constantly analyzed by people looking to identify what’s wrong versus what’s right.
- Being Black in Madison means that my ideas are only good if/when they come from the lips of a male or a white person.
- Being Black in Madison means that I am even stronger – because the only way to endure the racism that is so obvious to Black and Brown people is to brush it off, along with the criticism, the unsolicited advice, the condescension, the lowered expectations and the pain.
Kesha Bozeman: You are a branding expert. Give our readers three tips for helping to build a business brand.
- Know your consumer/customer – The best brands have a thorough understanding of the demographics of their target market, what their interests are, and how they communicate. Understanding your consumer provides direction for the identity of a brand, while helping to create an organic, human connection between a business and its audience.
- Distinctiveness – Determine the space a business wants to own in the hearts and minds in the consumer. Know what your unique product, service, or selling point.
- Passion – Passion is infectious. It’s certainly possible to build a brand in the short-term without passion, it’s almost impossible to sustain it in the long run.
Israel Lopez: Why did you decide to start the Chins Up Foundation? After having an enlightening experience with a Badger football star, Donnel Thompson, when I was a kid, I was instilled with the belief that collegiate athletes could have a lasting impact on underprivileged and at-risk kids. The Chins Up Foundation matches collegiate student-athletes with elementary aged students in a penpal mentoring program facilitated through the Chins Up Exchange software. Kids and athletes have their own individual profiles, which are synced together, allowing them to exchange guided messages back and forth. Additionally, athletes are able to send selfie videos via the mobile app version. Each letter and video that is sent is intercepted within the software to be read and reviewed for safety and privacy of both the kids and the athletes. We guide the conversation points and the software formats the messages into formal letter format, teaching the kids how to communicate effectively via email. As we continue to advance the software, we anticipate becoming a highly effective educational tool that combines tech with the human touch of guidance and motivation. Ultimately, I started Chins Up because I want to provide kids with a mentor that can give them insight into the world that they may not be able to obtain otherwise. This concept has clearly evolved into much much more.
Tania Ibarra: What’s the biggest stumbling block in Madison to turning the corner on our racial disparities? That we focus on the wrong things. Racial disparities are not the problem, they are the result of many other issues. The heightened focus on inequities and outcomes rather than root causes prevent us from solving anything. For example, I never hear anyone focus on resource allocation and what our budgeting preferences say about our priorities and our willingness to provide everyone with equitable access to opportunities. It is interesting for me to watch how we have what appears to be limitless resources to build infrastructure for entrepreneurs and business and yet we can’t have quality child care for all. I have watched how the same City that gets behind StartingBlock, for example, but can’t get behind at the same level for One City Early Learning Center. I mean StartingBlock’s capital budget is five times larger than One City. Which means if the same effort you put behind StartingBlock is behind One City you technically could have five child care centers.
I think the irony is that we spend so much time and energy focusing on the disparities that there is not much left to actually focus on the solution.
Marcus Miles: You attended the all black men photo shoot hosted by Kaleem Caire and you also attended the inBusiness Black in Business photo shoot hosted by Sabrina “HeyMiss Progress” Madison. What would you want people to know about both events? In terms of the Black in Business photo shoot, I would want people to know that in Madison there is a plethora of black talented, professionals, who are hardworking and creative entrepreneurs in every field and that are on par with any of their peers in the dominant society, and you should patronize them!
Obviously, I love connecting people, I do it all the time, whether non-profit, cross-culturally, community or business. I want to see others do well and our community thrives by working together. I really mean that.
Along with that, it is also important to build Black Economic Wealth which is in direct correlation to having the power to influence significant quality of life decisions, and I’m talking about political power. Who we elect, can directly relate to where we live, how our businesses operate, the schools our children go to. That’s just how it is, and we as black people I think for the most part have been left out of that power dynamic of the political process because of the corresponding disparity of economic power.
Government and the programs that benefit those without affluence that exist simply for altruistic reasons or because it’s the right thing to do, are slowly going away.
In regards to the Black Male Photo shoot, I respect Kaleem Caire for many reasons, and one of the goals with the shoot is to support One City Early Learning’s “Ready by 5” campaign. The turnout and support for this event were overwhelming and we have had hundreds of orders coming in for the calendars (which we are working on the layout this week), which will support that effort.
For me personally I think it is incredibly important for people to understand that there are so many good hard working Black men, professionals, and nonprofessionals who are single fathers, uncles, brothers, that are quietly handling their business and going about taking care of their families. I wanted to help portray these men in a positive light and help dispel many of the negative stereotypes of black men, particularly as fathers. I mean a lot of brothers have to navigate quite frankly a Family Court system and a society that is not very friendly to dads who insist on being a positive influence part of their children’s lives. For some, the deck is stacked against them. Yet despite the indignities, biases, and various institutional obstacles, still fight to be a healthy and essential part of their children’s lives, that’s what’s up. So I felt very humbled and grateful to be part of that message and this is something I’d like to help some understand.
Vanessa McDowell: As a lifelong Madisonian, give us two ways Madison has improved and two ways it has declined? Being a lifelong Madisonian, I have seen Madison endure various changes. One way that I have seen Madison improve, even though we have a long way to go, is seeing more people of color in leadership roles throughout the city. That gives me a sense of hope. Another area of improvement that I have seen has been in Madison’s willingness to engage in dialogue about race as it relates to our community and nation. Now, we are having a lot of dialogue about race it leads me to my concern about Madison’s decline as a city. One thing that seems to be glaring is the lack of action after the dialogue. Another concern I have is our inability to come together as a community to tackle difficult and sensitive issues. When I was younger I felt our community was much more together and tight knit, especially within the black community.
Jessica Cavazos: Why is supporting Latino businesses important for the Madison economy? Latino-owned small businesses are the fastest growing segment of small businesses. Many Latino families from all kinds of backgrounds believe that the key to a family’s financial upward mobility is through business ownership. Investing in supporting entrepreneurship and business development at all levels in Madison will help raise economic prosperity, income levels and quality of life for all.
Zandra Hagberg: If you could be anyone in the world, living or dead, for one day who would that be? Ret. Brigadier General Robert (“Bob”) Cocroft, my mentor. So much of who I am today and the things I have been able to accomplish are because of him. Bob is the President and CEO of the Center for Veterans Issues in Milwaukee. In the 70s, he co-founded the National Association of Black Veterans (NABVETS) where he served as Executive Director for 30+ years. When I started my career at 19, I was working at the Department of Veterans Affairs and Bob was the Deputy Secretary. He opened up so many doors of opportunity for me. He was passionate about helping homeless veterans, black veterans, veterans reentering the community from prison, etc., and he has done that through his work at CVI by developing residential treatment housing and, most recently, developed affordable housing units for veteran where many of the units are occupied by homeless veterans. Some of the residents are employed in the onsite café.
I met Bob for lunch a few years back when I was first considering starting my own consulting practice. My first client was a non-profit veteran’s organization, so I was seeking Bob’s guidance. In this conversation, I asked him how he continues to do all of the things he still does today. He has accomplished so many things in life and continues to amaze me with the things he is involved in. He could’ve retired a while ago, but his passion and drive keep him going. He said, “Zandra, when we die we all have a tombstone of some sort, and on that tombstone we all have the date we were born and the date we died. The only thing different on our tombstones is the dash between those dates. That dash is the most important thing because it represents our life. I decided a long time ago that I wanted my dash to mean something.” Since that day, I wanted my dash to mean something too. I would love to be him for just one day to have his passion, his commitment, his knowledge, his hustle, his power, and his abilities.