Angela Davis had just joined Madison Community Foundation as Development Director the last time A Fund For Women held its annual dinner. As the endowment prepares for its next big event on October 12 — featuring keynote speaker Sagashus Levingston and four new grant announcements — we caught up with Davis now that she’s got a year under her belt. She’s real about the challenges women face — especially women of color, especially in Madison — but irrepressibly optimistic. Madison365 is proud to be the media partner of An Intimite Evening with Sagashus T Levingston, A Fund For Women’s annual dinner.

Madison365: Let’s talk about how you got here. You got to Madison Community Foundation about a year ago if I remember right.

Angela Davis: Correct.

Madison365: And where’d you come from?

Angela Davis: I am originally from Hammond, Indiana, northwest Indiana, right next to Gary and about 15 minutes from Chicago. That’s where I was born. I was working at Purdue University in West Lafayette and I worked at the central development office at Purdue and I moved over to the college of pharmacy and worked in stewardship and donor relations.

Madison365: So what brought you to Madison?

Angela Davis: I came (just for a visit) and I actually fell in love with the place. It was so beautiful, always something going on and I just thought it would be a great place to visit.

Then I turned 40 and I was like, well, I don’t have anything to lose, I’m just going to go for it. But I needed to find a good job first. So my first position was actually with the Wisconsin Historical Foundation, started as a development officer and that was a great experience to be able to travel the state and all that great stuff.

Then I was wooed over here to Madison Community Foundation when Melinda Heinrintz left to take the position at the Foundation for Madison Public Schools. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Madison365: Your title is Development Director.

Angela Davis: Correct.

Madison365: So what does that entail? what is your day-to-day like?

Angela Davis: Day-to-day, great question. My day-to-day, what a lot of people may not realize is I work with all our giving partners. All our giving partners consist of Columbus, Middleton, Monona, Rio, Lodi, and our newest giving partner is Portage.

Madison365: The Community Foundations is in those communities?

Angela Davis: Yes, we work with our neighboring communities that want to have a difference in their communities by raising money. They have funds with us and they use those funds to better their communities. That’s part of what I do. I go to the communities and assist in any way I can as they continue to grow their funds for impacting their communities. The other giving partner I work with is A Fund for Women, and I also work with other fund holders, that can be individuals or agencies. That’s pretty cool.

Madison365: Are you interfacing directly with donors?

Angela Davis: I do. I do, it’s pretty cool to be able to work with donors who want to be philanthropic, to help facilitate that, because they have a need, they have a desire to give back. With Madison Community Foundation we have those systems in place to help donors do that, whether it is giving while they’re living or if they want to make legacy gifts and name us in their estate plans. One thing I’ve learned since I moved here, there’s so many people that want to give back to the community, that want to make a difference, and I just find that very amazing here.

Madison365: What’s your interaction with A Fund for Women?

Angela Davis: I also serve as the staff liaison for A Fund for Women, which means I provide support to them. I give technical assistance and do what I can to help further the mission, to make sure women and girls thrive here in Dane County. That’s very important. I think it’s a great story about A Fund for Women, how Jane Coleman started this whole process of building the endowment and the whole women’s philanthropy movement by talking to women to start this endowment and then where it is today, over $2.4 million, and the impact that we’ve had. It’ll be 25 years next year. It’s pretty powerful, all the work that’s been done. I have some statistics here. We have awarded over $1.2 million in grants, we’ve helped support over 60 different agencies with over 120 grants throughout the history. That’s pretty powerful because we see the need.

Madison365: Is there anything specific that you’re particularly proud of?

Angela Davis: I think what I’m very proud of is the work that was done prior to my joining the Fund for Women in choosing women’s economic empowerment and security as a focus, because that has to come first. Being able to help women better themselves and better their families, then they can go on to achieve amazing things. But if those basic needs aren’t met, it’s a wrap. And a lot of women are trapped in this crossroads, should I go that way, should I go this way, or they’re in between. I don’t qualify for this, but I qualify for that. It’s so much going on and they have so many responsibilities.

Working with women and girls that have adult responsibilities and trying to make a difference. We don’t program, that’s something that’s different with A Fund for Women. We don’t do the programs but we fund those programs that are on the ground doing the hard work.

Madison365: What are some of those programs?

Angela Davis: I can name some of those programs that we fund. YWCA, the YWeb program has been a program that we really believe in because they are helping to make sure women have sustainable employment. That’s one program. We’ll be announcing $75,000 worth of grants at the event. We’ll announce the four recipients at the event and you’ll hear a little bit about the impact of those local nonprofits in this community. I think that’s very important for people to know where the money is going and why it’s important.

I know a lot of times, a lot of questions I get is people want to know why they shouldn’t just give to a nonprofit agency, why give to A Fund for Women? My answer is when we pool our money together, we have amazing impact and we can do so much more. So, bringing that money together we have men and women. I want that to be real clear that this is A Fund for Women, but we need men’s support as well. It’s everybody’s responsibility. Everyone is welcome to make a difference.

So, we really want to push that, make sure we say that because I don’t want any men to feel that they’re being excluded of that we’re bashing them or anything like that because that’s definitely not the case. This affects everybody. As we say, when women and girls thrive, #everybodywins and it’s the truth.

Madison365: It seems to me that A Fund for Women focuses on jobs, entrepreneurship, education, job training, which has an impact on the entire family, men, women, boys, girls, everybody.

Angela Davis: It does affect the entire family. We feel that if we can help women get a leg up with some type of support, by supporting these agencies that can provide education, that can provide the job training, that can help in the system once they have the job, that’s another area that’s really important. Because sometimes it can be pretty easy to obtain the employment, but do you have those resources in place to help with those soft skills and such so they can continue to be employed? And issues happened when they do obtain employment — transportation, child care — it’s so many different issues that can prevent a woman from being able to go to that job once she’s gotten a job and worked so hard to get it.

It’s a lot that goes into women’s economic empowerment security, it’s the big picture. So, we look at the big picture of it. We want to support organizations that see that these are issues that have to be addressed as well. Having a safe space for these women to be able to grow and have an understanding of some of the issues and challenges that they’re facing with themselves and with their families.

Again, if we can have women employed, it’s a proven fact when women are employed it does make a difference for the entire economy.

Madison365: So talk a little bit about the event itself.

Sagashus Levingston

Angela Davis: This year our speaker is Sagashus Levingston who is phenomenal, just phenomenal. She is someone that you can look up to, you can totally respect because she has been full circle. She is a Ph.D. candidate, she is the single mother of six children. She is a CEO of her own company, Infamous Mothers. She’s working out there, she’s pounding the pavement and she’s an author. She has brought herself so far and she’s such an example and she has such a story and we want to tell that story and how she has gone from using some of the services we’ve supported in the past, to working with those organizations now. I think it’s just an amazing story that should be told.

We’ll also have monologues from the play adaptation from the book, Infamous Mothers,  which Sagashus will have available for purchase at the event. These monologues that will be performed by actresses. The women whose stories will be told through the monologues, the women the book is about will be in the audience. So they will see their life being played out on stage. I think it’s just phenomenal that she’ll have the book, she’ll have something that can go on stage to reach so many people to tell these stories of these infamous mothers that sometimes society throws away. They do so much for society and they have so much to offer. They are doing it.

I think it’s exciting to give these actresses the opportunity to perform in this beautiful location to an audience that may not otherwise see a performance like this. It’s going to be real, it’s going to be raw, and it may be a little uncomfortable. But you know what? That’s real life and those are the stories that have to be told and sometimes it’s not always pretty.

Madison365: Right. Who should come to this dinner?

Angela Davis: Fundraising and grantmaking is the heartbeat of what we do at a Fund for Women, beat by beat. We’re building a culture of women’s philanthropy that pumps life into the mission to transform lives in Dane County so all women and girls thrive. Because we are a giving partner of Madison Community Foundation, more of the dollars that are raised go right directly to our grantmaking, which is huge. So our partnership with MCF is very, very important.

Why should you come to this? This intimate evening with Sagashus Levingston is going to be an amazing event that will give you an opportunity to give back, an opportunity to see women’s stories, and an opportunity to network and make a difference in the community. All women and girls in our community deserve the right to reach their full potential and with your support of coming to this event, that will help us to do that.

Madison365: You’ve been in Madison now, what about two years?

Angela Davis: About two and a half years.

Madison365: You say you kind of fell in love with the city those first couple of visits.

Angela Davis: Mm-hmm.

Madison365: In that two and a half years, what more have you learned about Madison since you first visited till now?

Angela Davis: That’s a good question. It’s been interesting, that’s for sure. It’s an interesting place. I can see how you can get a little lost here sometimes, I think. But you have to find the right group and the right circle. I found some very welcoming people here. What I was told was this was one of the most progressive cities in the country. I’m still looking for that. In some ways it’s been very challenging as a black woman here in Madison, just to be honest.

But in other ways people, my colleagues and other people that I come in contact with, have been very open and warm. The people I work with at A Fund for Women, they’ve been very open, warm. But they’re still a lot of work that has to be done here. I’m also very fortunate being a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated because I have a built-in family. But it’s not easy. It’s not easy. Some days I’m just amazed at some of the things that are going on here and, hopefully, we all can play a part of making a difference.

Madison365: Very optimistic.

Angela Davis: You know what? You have to be optimistic. If not you’ll get caught up in a deep depression or you’ll just throw your hands up and say, you know what, I think I’m just going to leave. I can go back to where I was. I don’t need this. But I see it as a challenge too. I never want to let anyone steal my joy and I’m not going to do that. I’m going to fight. It’s not a fight that I fight alone and there’s so many people here that want to fight and make a difference and change that narrative. I want to be a part of that.