Home Local News “This will be a place where dreams will flourish.” Center for Black...

“This will be a place where dreams will flourish.” Center for Black Excellence and Culture breaks ground on Madison’s South Side

Ground was officially broke for the Center for Black Excellence and Culture on Wednesday. (Photo by A. David Dahmer)

It was a historic day in South Madison on Wednesday, June 19 — Juneteenth National Independence Day — as an official ceremony celebrated the groundbreaking of the Black-led, Black-designed, and Black-inspired Center for Black Excellence and Culture that will soon be a game-changer in Madison and beyond.

“This will be a place where dreams will flourish, where the brilliance of Black culture will be showcased and honored and a place where we will come together to learn and grow and uplift one another and experience joy and wellness together,” Rev. Dr. Alex Gee, founder and CEO of Center for Black Excellence and Culture, told the estimated crowd of about 500 people that gathered at the future site of The Center – 655 W. Badger Road. “We are not just imagining if this is possible, we are declaring that this will be our reality. With every brick that we lay – with the help of Findorff – we affirm our commitment to excellence, to culture, and to each other. Thank you for joining us on this incredible journey because together we will make history and build a legacy that will inspire the nation and generations to come.”

Dr. Rev. Alex Gee with his wife, Jackie, and his daughter, Lexi, at the groundbreaking for The Center for Black Excellence and Culture.
(Photo by David Dahmer)



The ceremony was attended by politicians, non-profit leaders, and local community members who celebrated the beginning of construction of the multi-level facility that looks to be finished at the end of 2025, as well as the contributions of individuals, groups and businesses who have made The Center’s creation possible.

“Today, we break the ground beneath us. But tomorrow we break the mold by inspiring future young Black history makers who will embody the essence and the power of the dream of our ancestors,” Gee said.

Dr. Rev. Alex Gee
(Photo by David Dahmer)




Gee expressed “deep gratitude” for the 300-plus Black donors who kicked off The Center’s fundraising efforts as part of the Black Excellence Campaign.

“Your voices and resources, your insights and your dreams have shaped this vision. Without your input and unwavering support. We would not be here today,” he said.

Folks line up for a giant group photo before the groundbreaking ceremony.
(Photo by David Dahmer)

The Center, made possible by a successful $33 million capital campaign, will host visual and performing arts displays; senior, youth and intergenerational programming; Pan-African community events; leadership development and professional research collaboration; celebratory receptions; film and book festivals; and much more. The space will also highlight the amazing accomplishments and contributions of Black Wisconsinites from Madison and beyond.

“In over 28 months, we have raised an incredible $28.5 million. This compliment is a testament to the power of collective effort and sheer belief in the importance and the impact upon society.” Gee said.

Rev. David Smith, a pastor at Door Creek Church who has known Rev. Gee since they were in the fourth grade, was one of the first honorary speakers at the event.

“I know that there are four generations of my family, the Smith family, that are here today and my kids and my grandkids will be able to benefit for many, many, many years to come from all the Black excellence that will happen in Madison, Wisconsin, right here on this field, drawing people regionally and nationally,” Smith said. “What a vision, Dr. Gee. Thank you for not giving up. Black history is wonderful and we ought to celebrate it every chance we get. And we always talk about the Black future of our kids and grandkids. But today, it’s about celebrating the Black present.”

Congressman Mark Pocan
(Photo by David Dahmer)

Congressman Mark Pocan said that he knew from the very beginning that the Center for Black Excellence and Culture was going to have a major impact on the community for a long time.

“I’m glad that we were able to be a little bit of a canary in the cave and get some initial federal dollars early on to help make this happen,” Pocan said. “But I think the most important thing is the legacy of this … all the people who helped put this together. Alex, they say in life you’re a composite of some of the most important people who helped make you … there are going to be generations of people that part of the composite of them is you and your vision, Alex. I look forward to actually seeing this being built.”

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin said she admired Rev. Gee’s vision. “You’re bringing this project to life,” she said, “and it is because of you, that we are here today.

“Today, as we break ground on the Center, that will be a home to the Black community across this state, we reflect upon and celebrate the Black excellence and resiliency that has shaped our country’s history,” she added. “I love Wisconsin dearly, but I know we have more work to do to create a place of fairness, equity and opportunity for all. That was why I was so proud to support The Center for Black Excellence and secure $3.5 million to build a space that challenges the systemic inequalities in our state while fostering connection and innovation. As a first of its kind, The Center for Black Excellence will serve as a blueprint for the rest of the country.”

State Rep. Shelia Stubbs
(Photo by David Dahmer)

State Rep. Shelia Stubbs, a longtime Madison southsider, told the crowd that something is happening today “that is greater than just South Madison.”

“The Center has the power to change the trajectory of the entire state of Wisconsin,” Stubbs said. “Black people have dreamed, articulated, and planned this vision of a place where the historic reality of Black excellence and brilliance in our state will be told and relived. The entire nation should take note of what happens when Black brilliance and leadership are respected and followed.”

Photographer Shalicia Johnson, owner of ArrowStar Photography, with a photo she took of Rev. Dr. Alex Gee
(Photo by David Dahmer)

Before and after the groundbreaking, the Fountain of Life Church parking lot was a big party with Black-owned food trucks serving food and refreshments, live music by popular Madison-area R&B band Kinfolk, and visual art exhibits from local Black artists like Shandra Bjyrd, Jerry Butler, Brooklyn Doby, Louis Ely, Lilada Gee and Shalicia Johnson.

Toward the end of the event, Ray and Linda Allen presented The Center for Black Excellence and Culture with a check for $100,000.

Dr. Rev. Alex Gee holds up a check for $100,000 from Ray and Linda Allen.
(Photo by David Dahmer)

Rev. Gee, in closing, told the crowd that when he first started talking about this dream of The Center several years ago, he would say to himself “Imagine if……”

“Imagine when The Center stands as a tall beacon of hope and inspiration and pride for our community. Imagine when our children walk through these doors and see their potential reflected in the achievements and stories and art of those who came before them,” Gee said. “Imagine when our seniors, our elders, arrive to see that we have not forgotten our history or lost our ways as we honor them for their trailblazing experiences and imagine them as they find space dedicated to them, fostering intergenerational connections that bequeath love, culture and self to the next generation. 

“Imagine when our rich heritage is celebrated not just as history, but as the foundation for our future and imagine when Black dramatic performances resonate with audiences, when art gallery showcases the fresh creativity of Black artists, and when a Black library becomes a reservoir of knowledge and Black culture,” Gee continued. “Imagine when this Center becomes a platform for innovation and leadership development for Black influencers, a gorgeous venue for weddings, receptions and retirement celebrations, a meeting conference space home for Black-led organizations and a laboratory for Black community-based research activities.

“And imagine the positive impact on Wisconsin when we truly feel at home here,” he added.