Madison lost a pioneer in local Black media when the co-founder of a long-running children’s show and leader in community journalism, Gaddi Ben Dan, died at his home on May 11, friends said. He was 76.
Dan was the co-creator of “Club TNT,” a weekly television show that sought to entertain while boosting youths’ self-esteem and warning them away from risky behavior. The Saturday show has aired locally during the past three decades, most recently on a substation of the Madison CBS affiliate. Dan was its senior executive producer.
Originally from Chicago, where he went to the University of Illinois and worked for Jessie Jackson’s Operation Push, Dan came to Madison in 1983, according to his friend and longtime collaborator Betty Banks.
The two were introduced by former Madison School Board president Kwame Salter and soon after started the Wisconsin Free Press to cover events and report news important to communities of color but which didn’t always get enough attention in larger newspapers, she said.
A report the newspaper did on drug use among youths led Dan and Banks to create “Club TNT” as a way to counter such behavior.
“Neither of us had ever created television before, but we decided to just do it,” Banks said. “The main thing that came out of anything we did was building community.”
In addition to the Free Press, Dan was also involved with the The Madison Times and the Ambassador Times Journal. Of the three, The Madison Times endures.
“I consider myself — and I’m not bragging — a crackerjack marketing man,” Dan told The Capital Times in 2018. “All the papers we ever started, we didn’t have any money. But we’d put together a prototype and I’d go out and sell it. The problem is maintaining it.”
The TNT in “Club TNT” stands for “today, not tomorrow” and was a sort of rallying cry to do the right things today to avoid negative consequences later, according to the show’s founders. In 2003, the nonprofit Today Not Tomorrow was created to produce the show and later launched efforts that included promoting infant health and the history of African Americans in Madison.
A segment on “Club TNT” called the “The Peacemakers” led to a partnership with the Madison Police Department and what Banks said were five community meetings during which the public learned about their rights when interacting with police and what to expect from police officers.
Dan’s career also included hosting radio shows and bringing performers including Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam to Madison.
LeeAnne Banks, who said she’s related to Betty “only by love,” was born and raised on Madison’s South Side and met Dan when she was in her teens. Later, she and her children were regular watchers of “Club TNT” because it was “something that had Black kids on TV.”
Dan was “always there for the youth,” she said, and with his Afro and large-rimmed glasses was “a real soulful man.”
“He kept it cool,” she said.
Dan marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during King’s open housing movement in Chicago in 1966, and for his work in Madison he was named a Humanitarian Award winner in 2018 by the Madison and Dane County Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission.
“He was just a real stand-up kind of individual, a strong Black man,” said Nicki Cooper, who had Dan as a mentor during her work with the Madison Race to Equity project to reduce race-based disparities in Dane County.
Protests over the police murder of George Floyd in 2020 have been among the sharpest indications of the attention Americans in general and Madisonians in particular are paying to racial disparities and race relations.
Dan “saw all this as an awakening but with lots still to do,” Betty Banks said. She said the two agreed that racial healing begins with the individual’s efforts to understand his or her biases and to then do something about them.