Celebrating the Urban League’s
50th Anniversary
Making a Difference
Rainey Briggs is currently the director for elementary
education for the Middleton-Cross Plains
Area School District.
1988.

“There was this Chinese couple who sold t-shirts,” Briggs said. “They were knock-off Jordan shirts and all of that good stuff. Out of the blue, it
turned into a huge riot. People started snatching the shirts and the things that they were selling. They were selling right there in the circle.
People were just grabbing stuff. The police came in and there was hot charcoal thrown on police officers. People were hitting each other with
table legs. The actual ambulance parked just outside the Sommerset Circle gate just waiting. Once people got busted up, they walked right to
the ambulance and got in. That one would pull away and another one would pull up. It was unreal.”

While Briggs’ family did it best to shield him from the craziness and the negative influences — particularly his older brother — it was programs
like Project JAMAA that helped him succeed. When Briggs entered sixth grade at Cherokee Middle School, he met Keith Burkes, the project’s
coordinator.

“Project JAMAA had just kicked off a couple of years prior to that,” Briggs recalled. “Fabu staffed the program before Keith. Keith came in and it
was like an instant connection that I had with Keith. My grades weren’t the greatest at the time. I remember right away in my sixth grade year, I
was trying to be too cool and trying to talk to all of the different girls. And then when Keith came in, he asked me to participate. He asked me if I
would like to come after school one day. I said, ‘Man, you got any food? You going to have something to eat there?’ He said, ‘Yeah, we’ve got
some Cheetos and some juice.’ I said, ‘I’m in.’ He had me wrapped in. I ended up going and I’ll tell you, it was probably one of the best choices
that I’ve made along with Keith being a part of encouraging me to come out and find out what was going on. It was definitely a way to keep me
focused on school and help me understand the balance between school and home life and being involved with anything.”

Project JAMAA — Swahili for family — was an after school program run by the Urban League two days per week at selected middle schools. It
involved tutoring, cultural enrichment and recreational activities.

“Project JAMAA really helped me understand how to process a lot of things and how to understand that you don’t have to fight to be better, you
don’t have to get into an argument to be better with people,” Briggs said. “Still to this day, I remember Keith Burkes saying something to me. I
used to sit there with my hand on my lip and face. Keith said to me one day, ‘You think you’re cool, don’t you.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘I’ll tell you
what. You don’t look cool doing that. You look cool putting your hand here on the side of your face because then people will think you are in
deep thought around something that is important.’ The old way was projecting, ‘What’s my next move?’ This is, ‘How can I better do something
different than what I have been doing?’ And to this day, that kind of stuck with me. And I stopped the old gesture back in seventh grade when I
thought that my stuff didn’t stink. From that point, it really helped me understand how to carry myself better.”

Project JAMAA added a lot of dimensions to Briggs’ life.

Next issue: Propelled to college and beyond
-------------------
On October 16, 2017, the Urban League of Greater Madison announced it will honor its 50th anniversary in 2018 with a commitment to empower
1,500 families by placing 1,500 low income job seekers into career pathway employment by 2020. Get the latest updates and watch monthly
video clips highlighting the effort at
ulgm.org/1500by2020.
By Jonathan Gramling

Editor’s Note – On February 20, 1968, the Madison Urban League — later renamed the
Urban League of Greater Madison — became an affiliate of the National Urban League
and in the ensuing 50 years, it has provided employment and training and other
human services to tens of thousands of youth and adults. In celebration of that
anniversary, The Capital City Hues will be featuring profiles of individuals who have
fulfilled their promise, at least in part through Urban League programming, on a
monthly basis through September.
***
The African proverb states that ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Those words ring
very true in the life of Rainey Briggs who is now the director of elementary education
for the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District. Briggs grew up the craziness of
the Sommerset Circle housing complex on Badger Road back in the 1980s and
1990s. If it weren’t for the likes of many community organizations like the
Neighborhood Intervention Program, Southside Raiders, the South Madison
Neighborhood Center and Madison Spartans, who knows what would have happened
to Briggs. This story is about Briggs’ involvement with the Urban League’s Project
JAMAA.

How crazy was it in Sommerset Circle? Briggs recalled one incident that happened in