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Center for Black Excellence and Culture announces $5 million raised, unveils design

By Robert Chappell, for Madison365

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    MADISON, WI (365 Media Foundation, Inc) — The Center for Black Excellence and Culture today announced it had raised $5 million toward its capital campaign goal of $36 million — including a $2 million commitment from Summit Credit Union, the largest donation in the credit union’s history — to build a three-story, 65,000-square-foot cultural center on six acres in South Madison, slated to open in 2023.

“My heart is overjoyed,” said founder Reverend Dr. Alex Gee at a press conference outside Fountain of Life Baptist Church, where he is pastor and which is adjacent to the site of the Center.

The Center also unveiled architectural renderings and floor plan for the center. Designed by Rafeeq Assad of JLA Architects, the Center will include a 220-space parking garage, two theaters, fitness center, art studio space and gallery, recording studio, coworking space, spaces for youth and seniors, the offices of the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development and more.

“As members of the Black community, our concerns have not always been heeded broadly, but my team and I have listened closely to what (Black people) have said to make this community great for you and your children,” Gee said. “What would help us to heal from recent and past atrocities and what would make Madison a wonderful community for current and future black people. And you told us we want our children to be seen as leaders to be developed and not problems to be studied and fixed. You said that we want space for networking, innovating, nurturing, healing, performing, creating, and belonging.”

While the initial fundraising campaign allowed Black people to make the first donations to lay a foundation, Gee said “the Center must have the support from Madison’s white business and philanthropic community.

“We’ve had enough studies. The black community needs to know that the broader white and philanthropic community are listening to us and getting behind us. We need that momentum to show up financially in a major way, the same way you supported downtown for everyone, the same way you supported clean lakes for everyone, the same place you supported great bike paths for a lot of us,” he said.

The initial first dollar campaign drew more than 300 donations from Black people or honorees, capital campaign chair Frances Huntley Cooper said.

“The results were nothing short of historic and inspiring,” she said. “A testament to the power of this movement and how quickly the community has galvanized behind the center, black professionals, culture leaders. And so many others are lending their time and expertise at every level of this project.”

Capital Campaign Chair Frances Huntley Cooper announced $5 million has been raised so far. Photo by Robert Chappell.

A number of major gifts have moved the needle on the $36 million needed to build the Center without any debt, Gee said, including the $2 million from Summit Credit Union.

“It’s time for all of us to join visionary and inspirational leaders like Dr. Gee to transform Madison from one of the worst cities for blacks to live in to one of the best,” Summit Credit Union CEO Kim Sponem said. “For businesses, the center will help us retain our black talent, recruit talent from other areas and make Madison the welcoming and supportive place that it wants to be, but has struggled to become.”

Additional donations include $500,000 each from the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation and Jerome W. Frautschi Foundation, $125,000 from Marla and Larry Frank, $100,000 from UW Health, $100,000 from M3, and $100,000 from an anonymous donor. The City of Madison has also allocated $250,000 and Dane County has allocated $810,000. Additionally, Rep. Mark Pocan was able to earmark $1 million in federal funding, pending legislative approval.

Gee said it’s “very, very significant” that the Center will open almost exactly 10 years after the Race to Equity Report, which shocked many Madisonians by demonstrating that racial disparities are worse here than nearly any other city in the United States. That report prompted Gee to respond with an essay titled “Justified Anger,” which became the name of an organization providing antiracist education as well as other services.

“It’s one thing to listen. We’ve listened and we’ve stepped back, but I feel the community is ready to respond,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot in the last 10 years, and I believe those that were having difficulty believing that racial disparities were real are believers now. And I feel that this is an opportunity for us to not only be a community that rides on this great laurels of its social activity and social action in the sixties and early seventies. This is a chance to respond to a national crisis right now. And I’m proud of our community for taking the discussion a step further to action.”

The Center is being built amid a revitalization of the South Side; the Urban League of Greater Madison’s (ULGM) Black Business Hub is also slated to open in 2023, and the ULGM has established programs to assist Black families own homes in the area.

“I have lived, worked, sold newspapers, or owned property in south Madison for the last half century. And I have never been prouder to be a member or a part of the south Madison community,” Gee said. “I love the fact that this is happening here and … I’m just happy about the part that we can play.”

Gee said it’s taken some time to get his head around raising $36 million, but every donation matters.

“I’ve run a nonprofit for 30 years. We can do a lot with five or seven thousand,” he said. “($36 million) is a big number, but that figure is commensurate with the problem.”

Anyone wishing to donate can do so at

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