Photo courtesy of Rule Enterprises

A renaissance can mean many things to many people, but it is best described as a rebirth in which forward-thinking Black leaders demand that we stop looking at Blackness as a color and start viewing it as a dynamically diverse culture in its own right.

A modern-day renaissance is underway in south Madison. This issue of UMOJA Magazine introduces visionariesꟷ self-made men and self-taught womenꟷ who said “yes we can” and then made it happen.

In just a few years, children will learn about their vibrant African American heritage at a cultural center. Some of those same children will have a front-row view of their parents receiving college degrees or opening family businesses. 

Young professionals may mingle at an internet café to fellowship and sip on iced coffees. The lingering scent of fresh cut grass will blanket neighborhoods with homes handed down one generation after another. And life-saving trips to a state-of-the-art clinic will be right in their backyard.

Can you picture it? 

Madison College President Dr. Jack E. Daniels, Rev. Dr. Alexander Gee, lead pastor of Fountain of Life Church, and Dr. Ruben L. Anthony Jr. can envision it. YWCA Madison’s Chief Executive Officer Vanessa McDowell, Dr. Marcus Allen, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, and Kaleem Caire, founder and CEO of One City Schools, believe it, too. And there are more intrepid leaders, guided by a vision to have Black residents and their families being self-reliant, empowered and living in their community of choice.

“I see the renaissance already happening,” said Caire, a man on a mission to close the education achievement gap. “As Marian Wright Edelman says, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ Our children are seeing the powerful moves we’re making and seeing all of the possibilities in themselves.” 

South Madison, also known as the southern gateway to downtown, is home to a handful of affordable neighborhoods. While major development creeps along the South Park Street corridor, Black leaders are fighting to halt an influx of higher-income properties and keeping longtime residents off of the eviction cliff.

“If we don’t do something now about creating our own economic development here, there won’t be a place for Black people in Madison to call home,” said Anthony, the mastermind of planned Black Business Hub outside his Urban League offices, aimed at providing an economic boost to the community.  Anthony is teaming with, Camille Carter, president of the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce, in leading and advocating for Black-owned businesses.

““It is essential that our businesses are represented here on the south side of Madison and alongside the Urban League because as a collective, we know that we are stronger together,” said Carter, who who represents some 400 Black-owned businesses in Madison. “As we build community and as we seek to promote businesses, it is important to note that historically our businesses have operated singularly in silos … and that is really a very difficult platform for an entrepreneur to build on.”

In what’s being called a first, minority entrepreneurs are leading a $41.3 million development of the vacant, city-owned Truman Olson property, also on the city’s south side.  Milwaukee-based Rule Enterprises, headed by Brandon Rule, includes plans with the owners of Luna’s Groceries, a small Latino-run store in the Allied Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood to operate a 24,000-square-foot grocery store in the six-story development on South Park Street.

Rule, a young African American developer, is developing the 3.5-acre parcel at 1402 S. Park St. in two phases. The first includes a six-story building with the grocery store, 150 mixed-income housing units and a 345-space parking garage at the site, which once held the now-demolished Truman Olson Army Reserve Center. A five-story second phase would have 80 housing units. In its proposal to the city, Rule wrote, “Everything we do is rooted in equity, equality and dignity.”

South Madison defines its neighborhoods immediately south of the isthmus, including Bay Creek, Burr Oaks, Bram’s Addition and Capitol View. Park Street weaves through these neighborhoods and bisects with the West Beltline Highway.

What was once taboo for many, is becoming more acceptable. Mental health and those facing emotional challenges don’t have to resort to shame and unchecked help. Mt. Zion Baptist Church, the city’s largest Black congregation, has partnered with Anesis Family Therapy to aid those in need.

Allen told Madison Magazine, “we want to have different social services and programing so when someone comes to my office and they are talking to me about mental health issues, I don’t have to say, ‘hey, call this number,’ but rather, ‘let me take you by the hand and walk you to somewhere you can get resources.’”

Find out more on the making of south Madison’s Renaissance in the following pages of UMOJA.