The upcoming Urban League of Greater Madison’s 3rd Annual Unity Picnic reminds Urban League CEO Ruben Anthony of the summertimes of his childhood.

“I grew up in New York where we always had block parties during the summer. They would turn on the water fire hydrant and we kids would run through in our swimsuits and cool off that way. There would always be music and food and friends,” Anthony tells Madison365. “It’s going to be the same type of fun atmosphere at the Annual Urban League Unity Picnic on Saturday. We’d love for folks to get used to the Urban League not just standing up for people when things go wrong but to be there to do some community building, too. This is one of our favorite community building activities.”

Folks from diverse communities and all walks of life will convene at the 3rd annual Unity Picnic, which will be held in the Villager Mall parking lot behind the Urban League on Saturday, July 22, noon-5 p.m. Anthony expects at least 700 community members to come out for the event which will include great food, great friends, and great fun.

Dr. Ruben Anthony
Dr. Ruben Anthony

“It’s a chance to see people that you might not have seen in a while and a chance to network. It’s a fun time but it also a time to connect. I’ve had people come up to me at Unity Picnics in the past and tell me, “My kid needs a job. Tell me about the workforce training programs.’ Kaleem [Caire] and One City [Early Learning Center] are a sponsor of the event this year and there certainly are people who are interested in what he’s doing with young people. So, that’s a chance to connect, too. It’s a great opportunity.

“We will have a lot of family activities at the picnic. We’ll have bouncy houses, face-painting and many things for the kids,” he adds. “We’ll have resource tables from community agencies.”

Also for the kids, there will be science exploration with the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, games, clowns, kids’ characters, and more. There will be music by Untitled. “They are a great group from Milwaukee. They sing a lot of soulful songs,” Anthony says. Local musical acts Sydney and DJ Ace will also be performing.

There will be plenty of children's activities at the Urban League's 3rd annual Unity Picnic. (Photo by Hedi Rudd)
There will be plenty of children’s activities at the Urban League’s 3rd annual Unity Picnic.
(Photo by Hedi Rudd)

For many people, the draw for the Unity Picnic is the award-winning BBQ by BP Smokehouse. “Darren Price, owner of BP Smokehouse BBQ, will be cooking a wide assortment of meats – smoked turkey breast, smoked ham, pulled pork, hot dogs and hamburgers,” Anthony says. “He’s a world-class cooker and first-class barbecue chef. He’s won several national competitions.”

The Unity Picnic is now one of the Urban League’s signature annual events and people come from all over town to enjoy this unique community get-together.

“This is a great day even for the public officials that are out there for the picnic … they don’t get a chance to relax come and party too often. They love this event,” Anthony says. “A lot of time they are stuck at these formal meetings in those old, stuffy meetings downtown. It’s a good chance to see them in a different light and a great chance to catch up and realize that we are one community.”

Anthony says that County Executive Joe Parisi was at the Unity Picnic last year and he really enjoyed it. “Enis [Ragland] and Gloria [Reyes] were here from the mayor’s office,” he says. “It’s people from all walks of life. We really get a diverse crowd – black, white, Latino, Hmong – at the Unity Picnic and that’s what I really like.”

Last year's Urban League annual Unity Picnic drew over 600 community members to the event. (Photo by Hedi Rudd)
Last year’s Urban League annual Unity Picnic drew over 600 community members to the event.
(Photo by Hedi Rudd)

Prior to the party, the Urban League of Greater Madison will host a private stakeholder’s meeting from 11 a.m.-noon where they will make a big announcement. “This is people that we have worked with throughout the year in one way or another,” Anthony says. “We will be given a $100,000 grant there and that will be officially announced at that meeting.”

At last year’s stakeholder’s meeting, the Urban League of Greater Madison got a $50,000 check from Wal-Mart. This year, they will be getting a check from whom?

“We can’t disclose that yet,” Anthony smiles, “but I can tell you that the money will go towards our workforce development programs.”

After the stakeholder’s meeting, the picnic will start at noon. Anthony is excited that they’ve added even more great activities and talent this year and that everything is free at the event including top-shelf barbecue and great music.

“For us … so many people work with us throughout the year and help us carry out our programs whether it be our school programs or whether it be our workforce development programs, that we just want to give back and do something positive in the community,” Anthony says. “So often we’re engaged in talking about what is NOT going right. Sometimes, it’s good just to focus on all of the positives and at the Unity Picnic that will be good friends, food, music, playing cards and fun. It’s a chance for people to let their hair down and have a good time with each other.”