It’s been a long time since the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County have had a week as busy as this week has been. And it’s not even over, as BGCDC gets set to host its 19th annual MOVE4BGC (previously known as BIKE4BGC) with a fundraising goal of $1.5 million and its All-White Party on Saturday.
“It’s been a crazy week. Some really exciting stuff going on right now,” BGCDC CEO Michael Johnson tells Madison365. “It’s nice to see things that you have been working on getting done. I’m so thankful.”
Big news happened on Tuesday afternoon when BGCDC broke ground on their new Regional Youth Workforce Center in Fitchburg.
“It’s the biggest project that I’ve taken on in my lifetime,” Johnson says. “We’ve been trying to raise $17 million to teach kids how to become plumbers, carpenters, electricians, welders. On top of that, we’re going to have an entrepreneurship center and teach our kids how to start and build their own businesses. We’re really excited about this.”
Johnson credits BGCDC board member John McKenzie for coming up with the idea around having young people work with the skilled trades and buying and donating the building for BGCDC. McKenzie made a $1 million gift. Last Thursday, philanthropist Jerome Frautschi donated $1 million to the new regional workforce center. Prior to that, Frautschi’s wife, Pleasant Rowland, founder of American Girl, had donated $5 million to the center.
“We’ve literally been trying to plan this for five years … trying to find the right piece of property. Over the last 66 days, over 1,700 people have given us over $1.5 million in small donations. It’s pretty phenomenal,” Johnson says. “The goal is to have the center open in the fall of 2022. It’s going to be a regional workforce center. This will be the largest workforce center in the Boys and Girls Club of America movement.”
Johnson says that the center will help mitigate the opportunity gap and provide immediate options for young adults to access skilled trades and earn a livable, family-sustaining wage.
“We have the largest college preparatory program [at BGCDC], I think, in the state of Wisconsin. So while we’ve created this dynamic college preparatory program, we’ve struggled to figure out what the path is for kids who don’t go to college. We know in the United States that only 27 percent of working-age adults have college degrees,” Johnson says. “So the timing is perfect for this regional workforce center.
“But we told the business community that we can’t do this unless we raise a significant endowment,” he continues. “The campaign is off to a great start, but we still have a lot of work to do and that’s why this year we dedicated our annual bike ride event to MOVEBGC. So far we have about 700 people who have registered.”
MOVE4BGC, one of BGCDC’s annual signature events, will take place at McKee Farms Park, 2930 Chapel Valley Rd., in Fitchburg on Saturday, July 17. There will be a 50-mile bike ride for advanced bicyclists, a 25-mile for intermediate bicyclists, and an 8-mile bike ride for families. There will also be a 4-mile run and a 2-mile run/walk.
Maps of the routes are available here. Additional maps will be available at registration. MOVE4BGC will happen rain or shine.
To raise funds and awareness for the MOVE4BGC campaign, an ambitious group of walkers trekked 50 miles in one day this past weekend starting in Sun Prairie and stopping at each BGCDC site in Madison. The walk included a 2-mile Black history walking tour in downtown Madison.
This coming Saturday, after a day of biking, BGCDC will be hosting its annual All-White Party. Attendees will dress in their best white attire and dance the night away for a good cause. There will be multiple entertainers and delicious food.
“I’m really looking forward to the All-White Party. It’s going to be right at the new building in the parking lot. We have huge white tents. We have a live band and a live DJ. There will be food and drinks and everybody will be wearing white,” Johnson says. “It’s one of those events that everybody looks forward to. It’s going to be one of the best parties in Dane County.”
One of the most inspiring things to happen to Johnson this past week was when the state Capitol and Executive Residence Board subcommittee voted unanimously to recommend the board place a statue of Vel Phillips, the former civil rights hero and Wisconsin secretary of state, at the Capitol’s south entrance. The Vel Phillips campaign is near and dear to Johnson’s heart.
“That was a historic vote on the Vel Phillips statue. I’m really psyched about that,” he says.
A year ago, Johnson wrote a letter to the State of Wisconsin after hearing from young activists about the lack of representation at the state Capitol and put together a group of leaders from across Wisconsin to champion this project.
“Last summer, I wrote a letter after me and Renee Moe, Anthony Cooper, Gloria Reyes stayed out all night walking with the protesters. A group of young people shared with me that there was no representation at the state capitol building,” Johnson remembers. “So the next day I wrote a letter to the governor pretty much stating, “Why is that the case?’ and I advocated to have the statue of Vel Phillips at the Capitol.
Gov. Tony Evers took Johnson’s call after he shared his concern with his office about the lack of representation at the state capitol.
“The governor responded quickly by endorsing the Vel Phillips project and within a week assigned a team from the Department of Administration to work with our volunteers,” Johnson says. “We spent about six months raising money and lobbying the Executive Residence Board and they took the vote. It was unanimous. There’s one more step but unless they all change their minds, Vel Phillips will become the first African American woman in the country to have a statue at the state capitol.”
After one of the busiest weeks BGCDC has had in a while, might be time to rest a little on Sunday after MOVE4BGC and the All-White Party Saturday night. Right?
“I’m actually going on vacation starting Monday morning,” Johnson laughs. “But, yes, it has been quite the amazing week. It’s made possible by the people in our community. We had a schoolteacher who gave $10,000. We had a lady yesterday cash out half of her stocks in Apple to support us. There are so many great stories of people stepping up to make these things happen. It’s heartwarming.
“I’ll be honest with you, if I don’t accomplish anything else in my life, to build out a skilled trade center and being the person to lead the effort to have a Black woman represented at our state Capitol … that’s pretty special. It’s amazing,” he adds. “It feels good to see the support.”