Dr. Rev. Alex Gee speaks at the 2014 Wisconsin Association of Black Men's Annual Black Men’s Initiative.

The Wisconsin Association of Black Men will host a two-day symposium, the 6th Annual Black Men’s Initiative, that will delve into issues facing black men with the intention of informing, educating and seeking solutions at Grainger Hall on the UW-Madison campus Feb. 24 and 25.

“We really want people to walk away with a broad scope of what it means to be a black male, particularly at UW,” says UW-Madison senior Bryan Mack, president of the Wisconsin Association of Black Men. “I think there are a lot of challenges, particularly being in Madison, with a lot of us African-American students coming from metropolitan cities. First and foremost, we want people to understand that our experiences are very distinct to ourselves and can’t be described with just one narrative.”

The event is titled “True2You: Unpacking Conformity and Roleplay” and the organizers are hoping that it will start conversations on broad and local advocacy and mentoring and will be an annual call-to-action around issues impacting young black men and their evolving roles as individuals, students, family leaders, role models and members of the community.

Wisconsin Association of Black Men
Wisconsin Association of Black Men

“As we organized this, we had three themes that we agreed on and then we voted and narrowed it down to one,” Mack tells Madison365 on how they came up with the theme ‘True2You: Unpacking Conformity and Roleplay.’ “We voted on it as a general body on what theme we felt was most relevant and the most unique. With ‘True2You: Unpacking Conformity and Roleplay,’ we really wanted to unpack why black males are perceived and received by media in such a narrow scope and unpack the diversity that exists within the black men’s experience.”

Mack also said that the theme for this year’s symposium aims to carry forward WABM’s vision of African descending men educating others through acts of integrity, intelligence, and initiative. “At its core, ‘True2You’ will interrogate the narrow views of black male perception that media and society promote, then unpack the true multiplicity of black male identity that they often disregard,” he says.

Dr. Ty-Ron Douglas, an up-and-coming educator at the University of Missouri, will kick off the opening reception with his keynote address. “He’s a great speaker who is very passionate about studying the black male experience. He really prides himself on having a nuanced approach to his research,” Mack says. “He does quantitative statistics looking at the achievement gaps and education gaps. He really looks at what he calls a three-faceted approach to research.”

Dr. Ty-Ron Douglas
Dr. Ty-Ron Douglas

Those three facets, Mack says, are me-search, we-search, and research.

“Me-search is him talking about his own experience as an international scholar from Bermuda,” Mack says. “We-search is the collective experience of black males with relation to academia and business. That gets combined into ‘research’ … how those experiences are interrelated with one another.”

While the first night will have the opening reception and dynamic keynote speaker to spark interest in the symposium, the second day of the event will be all about workshops led by university and Madison community leaders including Jerry Jordan, recruitment specialist and visual artist; Pastor Alexander Gee, senior pastor at Fountain of Life and founder of Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development; Ashley Lauren Smith, a Ph.D. candidate in educational policy studies; and Walter Williams, University of Wisconsin and Verona-area high school counselor.

“We have great speakers and leaders at this event – people with very distinct backgrounds. On the surface, they might not seem related in terms of what their focus is on and what their professions are, but at the core of it they are all working to combat the same issues – seeking to get representation and empowerment for the black males and the black community overall as a whole,” Mack says.

“They will be addressing these issues with a more specific and individual approach that still ties into our theme of ‘True2You: Unpacking Conformity and Roleplay,’” Mack adds.

Bryan Mack
Bryan Mack

The student-founded and student-run Wisconsin Association of Black Men (WABM) was inspired by Dr. Shaun Harper, a nationally known scholar on black male achievement and the associate professor and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

“It was founded back in 2009 after a conversation with Dr. Harper, one of the leading academics in urban education,” Mack says. “He was the keynote speaker that year for the Black History Month celebration at UW and he had a conversation with some black males on campus to find out why there not an exclusive space for black males on this campus. Following that conversation, black males – both graduate and undergraduate – combined efforts to start up the Wisconsin Association of Black Men.”

The organization fizzled out in 2014, but Mack says that great efforts by students have revitalized it last semester on campus. This year, the organization has set out to establish its presence within the multicultural and broader campus community, and has been recognized by both faculty and students for its impact in such a short span. Last semester, WABM tackled issues such as mental wellness, hyper-masculinity, and sexual violence, fostering space for critical introspection and honesty for black men within the organization.

Space is limited for the first night of the syumposium. If you’re looking to bring big groups, Mack asks that you contact him through the link below.

“The event is open to anybody who wants to come. We also want to bridge the avenue to allyship with people who aren’t necessarily in the black community,” Mack says. “We want to talk about what it means to advocate for the stories and to speak up when you hear a very narrow-minded view of what it means to be a black man. People can walk away with these conversations and be enlightened.”

To register for the 6th Annual Black Men’s Initiative, click here.