For Sabrina Madison, the creation of the Black Women’s Leadership Conference that will be held this Friday at Winedown in downtown Madison was a result of her always being the “token black woman” at events, conference, workshops, and forums in Madison.

“I was mad!” Madison tells Madison365. “I’m not even joking. I will tell it like it is. I was truly ticked off.

“I’m blessed and I’m thankful that folks invite me out to speak at conferences and lead workshops here in town, but I felt like I finally ended up attending the workshop that became my breaking point,” she adds.

Madison once again walked into a conference where she was the only black woman in the room. “Another black woman did come into the room later, but she had tons of leadership skills and 30-plus years on all of us combined,” Madison remembers. “I was like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ They were great people in the room, don’t get me wrong, but they were all white women. It seems like many times Madison only wants to cater to white women around leadership. I was so sick of it. Why weren’t there five black women, four Latinas, three Asian-American women in that room? Why was it just white women again?

“I came through a transitional living program before I came to Madison … are those women not valuable? Do they not have the potential to become leaders in the community or to lead some project?” Madison adds.

Sabrina Madison
Sabrina Madison

During the break at this particular conference, Madison was inspired to get to work and she started to plot her own conference.

“I was sitting around with my MacBook and looking around and saying to myself, ‘This doesn’t make any sense,’” she remembers. “But what would a conference look like that was geared towards black women in town? And I literally — during that 15-minute break — rolled out the skeleton for what that conference would look like.”

Madison, affectionately known around town as Heymiss Progress, is a motivational speaker and social entrepreneur. She is the founder of the Conversation Mixtape, a discussion group for black men and women to tackle different issues and to help them better understand one another and improve their relationships. Madison knew that if she wanted to get something done around black women in this city, that like with the Mixtape, she would have to create it herself.

Sabrina Madison started The Conversation Mixtape to get black men and women to tackle different issues and to help them better understand one another and improve their relationships. (Photo by Marcus Miles)
Sabrina Madison started The Conversation Mixtape to get black men and women to tackle different issues and to help them better understand one another and improve their relationships. (Photo by Marcus Miles)

“Black women have always led our families and we’ve been the backbone of really big movements, but financially we’re still suffering. I think we’re getting 57 cents on the dollar,” Madison says. “So, I asked myself what I could do to leverage my resources and my networks to improve the outcome for black women, to get more black women into space, to learn about jobs … the good jobs, not just the low-level jobs all the time.

“Part of the reason that I did this was to create friendships and relationships and mentor/mentee partnerships with other women who’ve done it and are doing it in this community,” she adds. “We can’t continue on like this as black women. We can’t continue to be at the bottom. It’s ridiculous. Let’s turn this around.”

Madison goes on to list some of the dismal statistics surround black women in Madison and Dane County and the need for such a conference that she has organized. But why not just wait a little longer and maybe white people will solve a lot of these problems? I’ve heard they are working on it.

“Noooooooooo. I don’t see anybody else running out of their offices to solve any of this. We can’t wait for that … and why should we?” Madison says. “I’m a social entrepreneur now. I’ve made some great connections here in this city and I know very well that black women in this community are looking for solutions and we have to start delivering. We have to do this ourselves.”

The Black Women’s Leadership Conference, titled “Reclaiming Our Power,” will be at the three-level Winedown on the Capitol Square. “It’s the perfect spot for an event. You can have the conference in one space, the vendors on another level and the social media at the third level,” Madison says. “The owner, Jenna [Carol], is really nice … she’s superflexible. She’s very much interested in what we do.”

Madison says she had 90 tickets allotted for the event and they sold out quick. At the conference, there will be many vendor tables from important agencies and programs in Madison, with some coming from Milwaukee, as well. Sponsors of the event include Madison Gas & Electric, American Printing, A Fund for Women, Upstart, and Dreambank.

Sheba McCants
Sheba McCants

Strategy Power Sessions will be led by local black women professionals Takeyla Benton, Kshinte Brathwaite, Malika Evanco, Sheba McCants, and Dynae Saba tackling issues like financial planning, impactful leadership, education, health and wellness, family engagement and more. “I really wanted to arrange the sessions so it sort of works like you’re sitting down and having a great conversation with a good friend who is very skilled in a particular area,” Madison says. “They are power sessions, one hour long. They are short and built for you to get that information you need.”

At lunchtime, they will give out the award for the Collaborator of the Year which Madison just announced she will be naming after outstanding community activist Carola Gaines. “Carola will get a plaque for being the namesake of the ward and Ali Muldrow will be the recipient,” Madison says. “Ali has had an impact on so many women.”

Gail Ford will be the keynote speaker at the Black Women’s Leadership Conference.
Gail Ford will be the keynote speaker at the Black Women’s Leadership Conference.

They keynote speaker for the event will be Gail Ford. Born and raised in Detroit with 11 siblings, Ford earned her master’s of science in Adult Education from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and her bachelor’s degree in Applied Speech Communication from Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. Ford has spoken across the country to audiences using her personal story to provide inspiration, motivation, and guidance to help others move towards a better life.

Over the past 13 years, Ford has worked in non-profits and post-secondary institutions to advocate for systematic changes to better align K-12 education programming with college-ready expectations. In March of 2015, she was asked to serve as the Interim Assistant Director for the Pre-College Enrichment Program for Leaning Excellence (PEOPLE) at UW-Madison. Her work with youth and professionals afforded her the opportunity to attend First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Beating the Odds Summit” at The White House in July 2015.

“Gail has been someone whom I’ve been able to have great conversations with. There’s just this goodness that she extends towards me in those conversations,” Madison says. “She has given me some really sound advice and her delivery is so wonderful. She’s so caring and so genuine that I wanted everybody else to experience that and hear that, too. I want more and more women to walk away from her keynote feeling like I did – empowered and supported and that you have a sister/girlfriend on your side.”

There will be a lot of energized women in one building on Friday doing some intense networking and sharing powerful stories and information. But how do you keep it going beyond just that one day?

“My membership group. I’ll create activities, I’ll do workshops, I’ll do the boardroom speaker series, we’ll do some social events,” Madison says. “We will truly keep people connected to this network. We’ll make sure that women keep getting together. My goal is to keep giving black women what they’ve been asking for.

“And with this conference, I have a list of over 600 women here and in Milwaukee and Racine and Kenosha and we will keep in touch. It’s all about building our team and our networks and being able to once in a while lean on someone else’s skill set … skills that you might not have yourself. Getting this many black women from all walks of life together at once in Madison doesn’t happen that often. It’s very exciting.”