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“First fruits” for Center for Black Excellence and Culture to come from Black folks as fundraising campaign launches today

Artist rendering of The Center for Black Excellence and Culture, set to open in 2023, which is receiving a $1 million grant from CUNA Mutual Group’s Foundation.

When the Center for Black Excellence and Culture opens in 2023, it’ll include an engraved plaque with the names of the first donors to fund it.

And all of those names will be Black.

The Black Excellence Campaign, launching today, seeks to raise $50,000 over the next two months exclusively from Black folks to bring what campaign chair Lilada Gee calls the “first fruits.”

Lilada Gee. Photo supplied.

“It’s really about giving black people the opportunity to be at the forefront of something that is for us and that’s by us,” she said in an exclusive interview Friday. “If you look at any major building or fundraising drive that has been in Madison, you see the (names of) donors and sponsors that are giving large sums of money, they get their name on a building or something like that. The Black Excellence Campaign is giving Black people the opportunity to bring the first fruits, if you will, for the center and have it celebrated. We may not have $100,000 to give, but we want to celebrate every bit that people bring and have them be a part of it … You don’t see droves of Black names anywhere in any of the beautiful buildings. So we wanted to create an opportunity from my 10-year-old niece to my 80-something-year-old mom to be able to give to this and to be celebrated as a collective. This is really looking at the collective power of Black brilliance and Black economics.”

Dane County has already committed $810,000 in the future to help build the Center, and the final price tag of the project and fundraising goals will be announced next month when the final architectural plans are complete. Gee said it’s crucial, however, that Black money come in first.

“We realized that we’re going to need all kinds of funders for this, but it’s important that the Black community bring the first fruits … the foundational fruits,” she said. “That’s why we are launching this before we launch our major general campaign, because we are able to hold claim that this is something that we believe in, that we lead, and that we want to be an integral part of creating it for ourselves.”

Gee said the committee wants those first $50,000 to come from Black folks, but you don’t necessarily have to live in Madison or even Wisconsin to contribute.

“Any Black person that has a heart for this vision, whether they live in Madison, never lived in Madison, who wants to give, we want them Black people’s green dollars,” Gee said. “There’s a lot of people who have left Madison who still have a heart for it, who still have family here, or might be somebody who just reads about it, we want them too.”

Gee said she also hopes people give in the names of others, especially people of various generations.

“One of my hopes for this is that it is a cross generational effort. So again, if it’s a child who has $10 to give, who has $5 to give, we want them to bring that. We want people to think about giving in the name of their children or their grandchildren,” she said. “We want to think of folks to think about giving in the memory of maybe their mother or grandmother, whether she lived here ever or not. Again, how often do black people get to have their names up on the side of a building saying we helped to do this? So I want, 30 years from now , I want someone who was a child (in 2021) to walk in and see their names over at wall. I want to see my grandmother see who picked cotton for a living. I want her name to be up on that wall. I think that’s something that is so beautiful that we can do for ourselves, we can do for our children, we can do for our ancestors. What a gift.”

Gee said the Center, when it’s built and opened two years from now, will become a welcoming family home for Madison’s Black community.

“I think it’s kind of like going to Big Momma’s house,” Gee said. “You go there and you eat food that is comforting. You see people that are familiar, that love you, you see your pictures on the wall, you see your mama when she was a girl. That’s what the center is going to be like. Like walking into Big Momma’s house and feeling like this is where I belong. I see the things that celebrate me. I see my certificate on the wall. That type of thing. People come in, they’re going to see art, maybe that they did or someone that they love did, or just art that looks like somebody that reminds them of something. They’re going to have performances, events that are Afrocentric, and that say we are not problems to be solved, but we are people to be celebrated.”

The Black Excellence Campaign Committee is made up of four Black women: Gee, Francis Huntley Cooper, Kirby Mack and Keisha Bozeman. “We really are bringing the spirit of black motherhood and the spirit of love and healing for our community,” Gee said.

You can give to the Black Excellence Campaign at https://www.theblackcenter.org/black-excellence-campaign/.