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POC-IT: New group provides space and activities for Madison’s BIPOC residents to socialize together

The first gathering of POC-IT incuded some board games at Roll Play on Madison's East Side. (Photo supplied.)

A Reddit post turned into an opportunity for Madison’s spread-out Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) residents to finally find a way to gather and hang out. Now, the group is going strong with proof that the group they started was drastically needed.

After some interest was sparked from a Reddit post on finding a way for more BIPOC residents of Madison to find activities to do together, Derek Nhieu and Emma Lazaroff started a group on Discord, an instant messaging and VoIP social platform. The group, POC-IT, started finding more and more people who were looking for the same thing. Now the group is nearly 100 strong and has been finding opportunities to do things together.

“When I was talking to people like, ‘Hey, where are the people of color at?’ And they’re like, well, they’re kind of these little pockets all around Madison — not really connected,” Nhieu said. “It’s not that there aren’t opportunities, or these nice places where people of color [can gather]. It’s also that they’re kind of siloed or more private, and it’s not like you can walk into someone’s friend group and be like, ‘Hey, I’m a person of color.’”

Nhieu and Lazaroff both grew up on the East Coast. The two were able to find more people of color to socialize within their previous settings, but Madison took them by surprise. The two were aware that the city was predominantly white and figured that there were going to be some issues trying to find other people of color. What the two didn’t expect was how lacking there was in spaces for people of color to find each other and things to do together.

The Discord came as a welcome surprise for people in similar circumstances, being a person of color in Madison and struggling for a way to gather.

“It’s going a lot better than other groups that I’ve been a part of, and it’s really impressive for its size and its age,” Lazaroff said. “This group has had impressive turnouts for events. I’m very impressed at how it’s gone compared to most groups where you’ll have like a lot of people for a local city or something and then you might see maybe the same few people that get together every single time.”

The success of the group continues to grow. Lazaroff, who manages a similar group for meet-ups in Madison, notes that this group consistently shows up with new faces each time. The group has been looking for more events to hold after its first one in January garnered more excitement than the two thought it would have.

So far, POC-IT has held a board game night and a get-together in Chicago for a Lunar New Year Festival in early February. People have also gone hiking and there are plans to attend comedian Ronny Cheng’s show in Madison on March 9.

Seeing more events unfold where people of color can comfortably gather together in Madison, Nhieu is starting to notice members feel more empowered to casually hang out on the fly instead of grand events with a lot of coordination.

“[In] January, things were a little slow, then something that’s been more recent that I’m very happy about was that folks are feeling empowered to host their own things,” Nhieu said. “There’s been new faces … so not just the same faces that show up to different things. I’m hoping that more people will continue to come out of their shells.”

The two note that there are some more introverted members in the group but want to find more ways to tailor to them. Nhieu and Lazaroff are trying to swing digital events, like watching a movie together in their own homes or playing games together online.

But an issue the two foresee, both as a positive and negative, is that its rapid growth might make things a bit harder to coordinate larger gatherings.

“I’m sure trying to figure out venues where everyone can attend and be inclusive and have something to do,” Nhieu said. “We help each other out by carpooling and stuff like that, but then when you’re trying to reserve a place for 50 people … that costs money. You have to cough up some coin.”

Regardless of its growth, the two still want to see the group grow to provide a place for Madison’s BIPOC residents to have a space where they can socialize together.

Anyone interested in joining the group can reach out to Nhieu or Lazaroff via e-mail [email protected] or [email protected].