When Ms. Milele asked me to join her at UMOJA as a writer and eventually a photographer, I did not realize the profound impact her request would have on my life. As I look back, I am sure that many of us have taken for granted the impact that UMOJA has had on our community and for those who haven’t, thank you. 

As we prepare to celebrate Ms. Milele’s birthday, we also remember her legacy and why she created UMOJA. What I didn’t realize as a young person was that I was being invited to be a part of a monthly celebration of all the amazing contributions that Black Madisonians make that are often unrecognized in the larger community. Not just the important milestones, birthdays, or anniversaries that all people enjoy, but significant contributions like those being made by a myriad of organizations across Madison that are led by Black leaders. There are few places we can count on to celebrate those successes, although that is beginning to change and as it does so will UMOJA, which can now be accessed both online and in print.

I had the opportunity to accompany Ms. Milele as she carved a path across Madison and beyond, looking for the gems that she could share with us. Artwork, stories, and photographs, all of it positive. Now my life is full of those treasures and it’s my job and others who contribute to UMOJA Magazine to continue to tell those stories and let the wider community know that Madison’s Black community has much to share. As new people move into Madison and grow their businesses and careers, we want them to feel included and to know that there was once a woman who knew they were coming and who wanted to create a place for them to introduce themselves and celebrate their successes. We want the young people who go to Milele Chikasa Anana Elementary School to know that that name means something to us and that the woman behind that name knew they would be great scholars one day and that she created a place where we could tell their stories and achievements. We don’t want her name to be forgotten or the legacy she created to be anything, but a unifying celebration of all that Black Madison has to offer. I thank her for that, and I know we all do. Happy Birthday Ms. Milele!