Cherished memories and loving stories of the life and legacy of Milele Chikasa Anana are voluminous. Here is a sampling of tributes to an unforgettable woman.
Treater Prestine, a daughter of Milele Chikasa Anana
Today the women who loved me, guided and believed in me passed away. I am grateful and honored that Milele Chikasa Anana was my Mom. She was a good and faithful servant and God called her home. She was a great Mom and Community Leader. The love and admiration I have for her is indescribable. The time we were able to spend together was a blessing. Mom, take care and keeping smiling. I Love You!
Larry Sain, State Farm Insurance agent, friend and longtime UMOJA supporter
In the years that I have known Milele Anana I have known no other community Leader with such grace, passion and commitment to the Madison community. As a Black business owner, I have had the privilege to work closely with Milele on many occasions and have been able to be successful through her teachings and examples.
Her continued support and encouragement have been a guiding light to many first-time business start-ups. Milele has always showed up and showed out for many Blacks in the Madison Community, and often became our voice. Over the years Milele has profoundly confessed her ambitions to recognize the African American business in Madison, which lead her to be the pioneer of the first and only Black Chamber of Commerce; which recognizes as well as sponsors educational programs and has over 300 locally Black-owned businesses.
The doors of opportunity Milele has opened for generations to come will be her legacy. As a proud Black father of a Black woman raised in the Madison Community, it gives me great pleasure to be able to be associated with a woman of her statue, as well as a personal and dear friend.
Satya Rhodes-Conway, Mayor of Madison
I join thousands of Madisonians in mourning the passing of Milele Chikasa Anana. To call her a Madison community leader almost seems like an understatement.
For nearly three decades, she served as editor and publisher of UMOJA Magazine, which she launched in 1990 to celebrate the accomplishments and joys of African Americans in Madison. In a world that too often does not hear all voices, Ms. Milele made sure that the stories of Madison’s Black community were told.
UMOJA focused on positive Black news and that is what Ms. Milele was, a positive example and a trailblazer for all of us. She was the first African American to serve on a Wisconsin school board, and the City’s first African American affirmative action officer. She also served as interim director of the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission, worked with the Black Chamber of Commerce to develop a directory of Black-owned businesses and to start Black Restaurant Week. She was also an active member of the Madison Alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. In 2009, she received the City of Madison’s Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award for her service to our community.
Ms. Milele described herself as a general hell-raiser, and she was. She was also a leader, an incredible example of determination, and a wonderful role model. Although I mourn her passing, I hope we can celebrate her life and publicly appreciate the many gifts she gave this community.
Rev. Dr. Marcus Allen, Senior Pastor Mt. Zion Baptist Church
Mother Milele Chikasa Anana is the epitome of someone who was concerned and committed to Black excellence in our community. I have had the privilege of being her pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church since October 2016. My first time ever being in a magazine was because Mother Milele interviewed me for UMOJA. She was committed to ensuring that our story was being told appropriately and accurately.
Her passion, love and affection for all was displayed in her deeds. She was a woman of action. As the “Village Mother,” her wisdom and knowledge has encouraged so many to be greater than what they thought they could ever imagine. The members of the Mt. Zion church will miss her dearly. We are grateful to her wonderful contribution to the community and to the church. Milele you can now rest from your labor and please know you labor was not in vain.
Linda Mathis-Rose, Madison Artist
I don’t know how to respond to this, but… I spent years fighting with her and loving her. If you wanted to work with Milele you had to push/argue for what you wanted. In her head and on paper she already had a plan for you. She was a true businesswomen so she had already studied you or your company (or had someone else do it) and then she came to get your art, your company’s financial partnership, etc.. She always stressed that she would only publish positive articles about events that were happening in Wisconsin. Her argument was: “positive articles and events were what was needed to keep the community mentally and physically healthy. She also stressed that no one else is doing that for Madison’s Black communities at the moment, so she was going to do it.
Milele Chakasa Anana I hope that my love travels with you.
Syovata Edari, Criminal defense lawyer and CocoVaa Chocolatier
One of my greatest supporters and favorite mentors passed on today. Milele Chikasa Anana passed away on her terms, as she lived her life. I’m thankful I was able to see her one last time and in a moment of lucidity she told me as she always did, “don’t stop” and “never ever give up.” Which we don’t.
Since I was 16 she’s featured my accomplishments in UMOJA Magazine. She had a true entrepreneurial spirit. She walked into spaces that never saw anyone like her and that were designed to exclude her and she changed the culture of those spaces. They didn’t have to “like” her but they had to respect her, because she earned that respect. Not by necessarily being polite, never by being complacent, but because she knew how to engage power. Her audacious presence alone, in spaces that otherwise excluded certain people, flipped the script, reversing, even if momentarily, the inertia of anti-progress. The idea that being a Black woman might hinder her from getting something done didn’t faze her. She’d do it anyway. No matter what it might take. She didn’t stop.
Gloria Ladson-Billings, Renowned Educator and Board President of Urban League of Greater Madison
Cher, Madonna, Oprah — there are those we know by just one name. In Madison that one-named wonder was a woman who has dedicated her life to the cause of justice and opportunity for all people, especially African Americans. Milele.
Her work includes working as the city’s Affirmative Action Officer and publishing, editing, and marketing the community’s good news periodical, UMOJA. I once referred to her as someone who reports the “best of us” for the benefit of “the rest of us.” She is known as the griot, the keeper of the community record, and the documentarian of our good deeds.
Lisa Payton-Caire, Founder and President of The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness
I have struggled to form words worthy enough to honor the Queen Mother, the Great Elder, our community Morning Star Milele Chikasa Anana. She was a light, a force, a power unto herself, tiny in stature and voice, but bold and commanding in Spirit, royal and confident…full of life!…unapologetically honest, direct, and wise in every word she spoke and wrote while defending our humanity and telling our stories in UMOJA Magazine.
She loved us, supported us, scolded us, patched us up when we fell; she showed up when others didn’t, stood up for us when we weren’t in the room, dared us to be united, to be a Village, to be great. She shined a light on our achievements, our children, our families, our businesses, our community, and committed her life to the good fight, to loving, leading, guiding, STANDING UP, and opening the way…for all of us.
She was our Mother, our Grandmother, our Great Aunt, our Warrior Queen…she stepped into battle for us without hesitation, in ways known and unknown, and in her own right, made this city a better place for all of us in ways we may never fully understand. We stand on her tiny, strong, unrelenting shoulders. I for one can speak to the ways she lifted me, reminding me often of my strength—as a woman, as a Mother, as a Leader, encouraging me always to keep pushing forward, moving upwards, to understand my power, to master business, to understand money, to trust my instincts, to keep my eyes on the prize. She was a mentor, a teacher, a counselor, a mother…proud of all of us, and that alone was the highest honor.
What manner of a Woman was this who left us better, prouder, stronger, and forever changed by her presence? There are no words great enough for one such as her.
Lucía Nuñez, Vice President, Equity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement
Ms. Milele kept me on my toes during all the years I served as the director of the Department of Civil Rights for the City of Madison. At times, I honestly thought she had my telephone number on speed dial. She had been the first director of the Affirmative Action Department, years before the controversial merger and perhaps equally controversial pick by Mayor Dave in selecting me to be the first director of the Department of Civil Rights.
I had big shoes to fill, not just Ms. Milele’s, but also the late Rev. James Wright. I could never fill these two legends’ shoes. Two champions whose long-lasting impact on civil rights in Madison are visible still. I knew the affirmative action and equal opportunities ordinances, especially learned about those sections that they fought hard to get passed. To know the people behind the laws made history real; Ms. Milele was one of Madison’s history makers. The vote for the equal opportunities’ ordinance was tied at the Common Council in 1963 after a late night of debates. Civil rights leaders like Bernard Mann attempted numerous times to defend fair housing laws to racist counter attacks that would make people cringe today. Mayor Henry Reynolds broke the tie in favor of the passing of the Equal Opportunities Ordinances. Ms. Milele’s standards were high, as they should be, and we all are so much the better for the legacy she leaves behind in the community she had a part in building.
Dawn Crim, Department of Safety and Professional Services Secretary-Designee
Milele was “All knowing” when it came to the Black community in Madison. She was an important piece of the Black community’s fabric. Providing wisdom, guidance, and making connections. She had a connection with everyone. I made my connection with her during my first weekend in town in June 1996. I had accepted an assistant women’s basketball coaching position with UW-Madison and was staying at a local hotel. I noticed on the newspaper rack, The Madison Times. In the publication, I saw an article about Juneteenth being held at the Alliant Energy Center. I thought, this looks cool, I will check it out. I took a cab to the Alliant Energy Center. I wasn’t there five minutes when this little woman walked up to me and said, “Who you? I know all the Black people in town and I don’t know you.” I was sort of taken aback but she was so direct and feisty, I thought, I better answer. I let her know I was a new assistant women’s basketball coach. She took a piece a paper out of her pocket and began interviewing me, right on the spot, then she took my picture. After that, she took me around the festival introducing me as ‘The Coach’. Milele and I have been connected ever since. Over the years, I have been featured in UMOJA, I have written articles, provided access and became like family. I truly miss her.
Alex Shade, CUNA Mutual Group, Director Corporate Social Responsibility
It saddens me to write this. We are feeling the impact related to the loss of Ms. Milele Chikasa Anana, who was an incredible leader of the Black community here in Madison.
As I reflect back on my initial meeting with you and her, it brings a smile to my face, knowing that she was very intentional in highlighting young Black talent not only here at CUNA Mutual Group, but throughout our Dane County community at-large. I am still humbled and honored to have been featured last year.
On behalf of myself and CUNA Mutual, please know that our thoughts and prayers are with you, the staff, the African American community, and the city. She was an educator, mentor, and connector who led by example and empowered African Americans in our community and beyond, both in print and in person.
Ms. Milele will most certainly be missed, but we know that her legacy will live on for many generations.
Curtiss E. Harris, Former Executive Director, African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin, 2007-2011
I had the honor of having a number of conversations with Ms. Anana and they were enriching, encouraging, fruitful and visionary. More than once, I tried to encourage her to start a magazine in Milwaukee similar to the one in Madison as I felt the Milwaukee community, especially the Black community, needed the same type of positive qualities. And since the person (Dana Warren) working with her initially has Milwaukee roots, I felt it was a given. She quietly shared why she did not want to dilute her effort, wanting to make sure Madison had her full attention.
We all have lost a great person and friend. May God continue to bless he in all ways.