|Vol. 9 No. 14
JULY 10, 2014
Publisher & Editor
Lisa Peyton-Caire, Eileen Hocker,
Alfonso Zepeda Capistran, Theola
Carter, Fabu, Lang Kenneth
Haynes, Heidi Pascual, and Donna
Back when I first came to Madison as a freshman at UW-Madison, people used to say that Madison was a large university surrounded by a
small town. Back then, its population was about 173,000 people and when the university practically closed down in the summer, there was a
noticeable void. Back then, the newly-built West Towne was surrounded by fields and one could ride a bike into the country by just crossing
under the Beltline near the Dane County Coliseum. There were no real suburbs and there wasn’t any development, for the most part, on the outer
part of the Beltline.
My, how things have changed. I took a drive out to someone’s house in Middleton the other day and I felt as if I had driven just about all the way
to Cross Plains. There are so many large houses and corporate offices west of the Beltline that it almost constitutes a second urban center for
the city of Madison. The city of Madison’s population has grown to an estimated 243,000, which is pretty decent when considering that the
populations of many urban areas have remained stagnant or have lost population during this same time period. And of course Madison now has
suburbs and exurbs. Looking at the growth of Madison and the surrounding area, the population has nearly tripled in my estimation.
Back in the early 1970s, Madison almost was a small town and a relatively small number of wealthy individuals exercised a lot of influence
over civic affairs although the rising Baby Boom generation and politically organized neighborhoods like Willy Street also influenced city policy.
And back then, Madison didn’t really know how to deal with its citizens of color. An African American friend of mine told me how when he was a
student in the early 1970s, he and his friends would walk into stores sometimes and shoplift items and the proprietors wouldn’t say anything
because they didn’t know how to deal with Black people.
And I was at a forum or engaged in a conversation with a woman one time — she must have been middle aged at the time — who wondered
why all Black people couldn’t be like Snowball, who was a white-haired elderly Black gentleman who washed the windows of businesses on
State Street. He was widely loved and recognized. His photo still hangs in the Madison mayor’s office. But I couldn’t help but feel that the
woman was wishing that all Black people were as docile and unthreatening as Snowball.
In some ways, Madison didn’t know how to deal with its African American and later Latino populations. Did they need to be contained? Did any
concentration of African Americans create uneasiness for the general population? Was any sense independent Black political power or a base
of power threaten the control that some felt was needed over this population? Do we not try to control that which we do not understand?
You can be a Euro-American community business leader in the Madison area and have no personal connections with people of color and only
deal with them if you chose to do so. And yet you are making decisions and helping to shape a community in which people of color are
immensely impacted by the results of those decisions — and somewhat dependent on them. And this situation does not depend on your
personal qualities, whether you are a good or bad person. It just reflects your position within a society that is still relatively segregated.
As the African American and Latino populations have grown in the Madison area, especially over the past 20 years, I can’t help but feel that
there is still that desire to control and to have a certain level of dependency of those communities of color on the greater population. Centro
Hispano and the Urban League have been relatively weak organizations that while their mission is to assist the Latino and African American
communities respectively to grow and develop, more often than not, they have had to do what others felt that they should be doing. In some
ways, they have had to do the bidding of others, especially those who give money to the organization.
On some levels, this is understandable because people do like to approve where their donated money is going to and they have that right. But
because of where the money lies in Madison and who controls those purse strings, in an environment where private donations are crucial to
the ability of non-profits to effect their missions, in the case of organizations of color, it is Euro-Americans who are deciding what the agenda of
these organizations of color should be. And no one really complains loudly that these organizations remain weak.
A couple of Fridays ago, Centro Hispano of Dane County rolled out its strategic plan that defines the role that it wishes to play on the Latino
community and the community beyond. In essence, Centro Hispano would become a hub for many activities and services for the Latino
community that would be developed collaboratively with other Latino and non-Latino service providers in Dane County.
There were about 70-100 people at Centro Hispano to listen to the announcement. Many of them are current and future partners of Centro
Hispano. Everyone in the room seemed to be enthusiastic about the plan and was willing to lend their support.
In my opinion, the natural outgrowth of the successful implementation of this strategic plan is a stronger, more independent Centro Hispano as it
implements its plan. It will require resources for it and its partners to fulfill the promise of the plan. But if those resources come with a lot of
strings attached, it may send Centro in a million directions and the momentum of the plan will dissipate.
The powers that be in Madison need to learn to trust its organizations of color and not be overtly or covertly paternalistic of them. They need to
develop as peer agencies that have the semi-autonomous ability to help the Latino, African American and other communities of color — whether
geographically or virtually — become vibrant, positive and developing communities. And when this happens, all of Madison and Dane County
Agencies like Centro Hispano and the Urban League need to have enough control over their missions and the implementation of their plans that
their constituents are assured that these agencies are working in their interests and on behalf of their communities and not on behalf of
someone else. Otherwise, their constituents will not buy into their services and allow them to have the impact on their communities that is
needed to move their communities — and the rest of the Madison area — forward.
The Madison area has grown out of its small town population status over the past 44 years. And it needs to grow out of its small-town control if
it is to grow into a cosmopolitan area where everyone can pursue life, liberty and happiness unencumbered by small town or perceptual
strictures. I hope that the Madison community allows Centro Hispano — and the Urban League when it emerges from its leadership transition —
to grow and strengthen to effect its mission for when this happens, everyone will benefit.
|Artist Michael Ward Expresses
Hope and Emotion