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Introducing “Black Oxygen,” our new weekly podcast

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Angela Russell needs room to breathe — and knows maybe you do, too. 

The CUNA Mutual vice president loves Wisconsin, but is also keenly aware that there aren’t that many Black people here. It can be a bit much, at times. A colleague once said what she needs is some Black oxygen, and that idea stuck.

“Those two words put together, I’m just like, ‘that’s great. I love that phrase,’” she says. “I just started journaling about it last fall, last winter and thinking about it, journaling about it more, chatted with (Madison365 Publisher) Henry (Sanders) and a couple of other folks. And then the idea of a podcast was born. And as we think through everything that’s happening, how it’s hard to connect with people in ways that we used to right now and how we literally see very limited spaces where Black folks can have a sense of sanctuary and breathe, right now, I want to be able to offer that space of refuge for folks to be able to just have a few moments of restoration. And that’s the goal of this podcast, just a few moments, a weekly ritual where folks can just be safe and listen to some of the wisdom of other folks in this area.”

Today, her podcast launches with an interview with spoken word artist Opal Tomashevska. 

“Black Oxygen is a podcast all about amplifying the Black voices in Madison and throughout Wisconsin as a way for us to connect and share those gems of wisdom for each other on what it’s like to be a Black person in Wisconsin, to survive and thrive in Wisconsin,” Russell says.

Russell started her career as an epidemiologist, especially focusing on disparities in health care. She was a policy adviser to Governor Jim Doyle and joined CUNA Mutual five years ago. She was named one of the most influential African American leaders in Wisconsin on our 2016 Black Power List.

She’s already finished interviews for the next few episodes.

“I have literally been blown away by the conversations that I’ve had so far,” she says. “As I was doing these interviews and thinking about this podcast, I’m like, ‘Ang, what are you doing adding another thing to your plate. You already feel wiped out and depleted from working, working from home with kids and working through a pandemic during the economic recession and a civil rights movement, and it all seems like a lot. So what are you doing adding another thing?’ And what I’ve realized is that I need this just as much as a lot of other folks. These conversations have literally filled me up and I’m very humbled and grateful to have these conversations with folks.”

Black Oxygen is a Madison365 production and available for free on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Every episode will also be available at Madison365.org/BlackOxygen.

Or, listen to the first episode here, but be sure to subscribe in your favorite podcast app, too!