A few weeks ago, I sat in a box along the side of the beautiful Overture Hall. I listened as Madison’s own Michael Johnson, Jr., known on stage as MKE, the R&B stars After 7, and the iconic Gladys Knight brought the house down. The hall was filled with joy, literally thousands of people coming together to take in the music while pulling together some money for the kids in our community, It turned out to be an incredibly successful fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County.
I’ll be honest; I was reluctant to go. I have small kids at home, one of whom is wonderfully made with Down Syndrome, which makes him immunocompromised. Besides that, COVID affects us people of color more than other populations. I’ve made it this far without catching it; I’m not about to let my guard down now. But, ultimately, I went – masked, of course. And let me tell you, I’m glad I did. As I looked out over that crowd, as I hugged members of the Madison365 team, as I got daps and nods and fist-bumps from old friends … I just kept thinking … “I didn’t know how much I missed this.”
I hope an event we have coming up in October, the fifth annual Wisconsin Leadership Summit—the first in-person summit since 2019— will inspire a similar feeling in you. And that’s why we’re calling it “A Family Reunion.”
When the pandemic started, I was determined to come out of it better than I went into it. As is the case with many of you, I’m sure, some things went according to plan; other things didn’t. On the positive side, I got time to invest in and spend time with my family in ways I didn’t before. Madison365 had some of our best years on all metrics. In response to a new focus on diversity and inclusion, I launched a new for-profit DEI consulting arm, 365 Nation.
The things I didn’t do as well included keeping in touch with my community family. That was mostly out of my control because of COVID, as I’m sure you understand. When I slowly started to engage back into the community, reconnecting with that chosen family, it hit me how much I missed and needed that interaction with my peers. I missed the professional discussions and strategy conversations on how to help improve the community. And like any family, I missed the healthy debates and the diversity of opinions.
I also missed being around other leaders of color because of all of the vital, real discussions around race that happen naturally in those spaces. Those conversations can be divisive, but at their core people want to feel like they belong and feel at home in all parts of the community.
So here is our little part we can do to help foster that environment. The Wisconsin Leadership Summit returns in person October 10 and 11. I genuinely hope to use the opportunity to make you feel at home, to let you know that, as leaders, we appreciate you and you are not alone–even if you’ve felt alone these last couple of years.
We have also invited about 200 high school students and our next generation of leaders. That means we can have a true family reunion, complete with multi-generational conversations, debates, networking, uplifting, learning and, on top of all that, dancing. Come join us for two-plus days of 25 panels, all made up exclusively of leaders of color, along with music, food, entertainment, the Wisconsin Leadership Community Choice Awards, and more.
See you at the family reunion!