A sold-out crowd attended the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce annual Madison Black Gala. Formerly known as the Black Business Awards and Recognition Exhibition program, this year’s highly anticipated event, at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, was a night to remember. 

Madison Black Chamber ꟷ  celebrating its 10th anniversary and 5th annual awards recognition dinner ꟷ spent the night highlighting the significant impact Black businesses are having across Dane County. It also featured an art and history exhibition and marketplace that pays tribute to Black business excellence throughout history.

The gala’s theme, “Where Black Wall Street Meets Madison,” included a roaring 20s, Harlem Night’s attire flare. Madison Black Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Camille Carter said the event was “a one-of-a-kind” celebration. 

“As an organization, we want to keep growing and evolving,” Carter said.

Preceding the gala, the community shopped and supported local Black vendors at the Black Wall Street Marketplace. A free viewing of the inspiring official travelling exhibit of Black Wall Street, “The Spirit of Greenwood,” in partnership with the Tulsa Historical Society & Museum was held concurrently.

A20 special curated artwork by local artist, Eric “The Artist” Cross was unveiled for the first time, including a portrait of the late Milele Chikasa Anana, one of the founders of the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce, the first Black school board member in Wisconsin and the longtime editor and publisher of the magazine UMOJA.

Anana’s cousin, Opal Lee, an internationally renowned activist and a 2022 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, was a special guest speaker during the Gala’s fireside chat. Among her lifetime of achievements, Lee successfully spearheaded the movement to make Juneteenth a federally recognized holiday.

“If people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love,” said Lee, the living legend whose spirit remains strong.

When Lee was 12 years old, her family’s home was vandalized and torched by a 500-person mob of white supremacists to scare her family out of their predominantly white neighborhood in Fort Worth, Texas. As her family’s home was destroyed, police officers did nothing to intervene. Understandably, this horrific event left a mark on Lee. The mob’s actions that day served as a catalyst for resistance and reclamation.

The 96-year-old is now recognized as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” wants Black entrepreneurs to stay inspired using vision, patience, perseverance, and a bit of stubbornness towards success. Lee, who was presented in March with the Doctorate of Humane Letters from her alma mater, Wiley College, encouraged gala attendees to be the change they want to see in the world.

“Nobody is free until we’re all free,” Lee said.

Ron Busby, president and CEO of the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc., also delivered the “State of Black Business” address through recorded remarks.

The event’s program included a Black Business Awards to local Black businesses and entrepreneurs including categories such as Emerging Business, Innovator,  Community Leader, Lifetime Achievement,  and Young Entrepreneur.