The Social Justice Center (below), located at 1202 Williamson Street, Celebrated its 12th birthday recently by honoring Charles and Constance Smalley (above) with the Legacy Award
Hanah Jon Taylor performs
Folks gather at the Social Justice Center's 12th birthday party at the Goodman Community Center
Alex Hanna, co- president of the Teaching Assistants' Association (TAA), accepts the Visionary Award
You’ve seen the Social Justice Center building in the heart of Willy Street, but you may not be exactly sure what goes on in there.
But for 12 years, the Social Justice Center (SJC) has been doing many important things in the Madison community. SJC is a collaboration of progressive non-profit organizations that work both separately and together to make Madison a better place to live.
“I like that every day is different for me here at the Social Justice Center,” says SJC Coordinator Jeanne Erickson. “My whole adult career has pretty much been with nonprofits and working for others and so to be able to see the great things that have been happening with our longstanding agencies on the first floor and with our nonprofits with the incubator downstairs ... there’s just so much energy ... and there’s so much synergy between the different groups.
“I love seeing this kind of advocacy in action. It’s a great vibe,” she adds. “I want to see that everybody has a voice and that everybody has services available to them. That’s our goal at the Social Justice Center.”
The SJC was founded in 2000 when Wisconsin Community Fund, Madison Community Cooperative, Tenant Resource Center, and Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund teamed up to create a nonprofit office center with a social justice focus.
“The driving force behind the founding of the Social Justice Center was like-minded people coming together and one of the main persons behind it was Nan Cheney,” says SJC Coordinator Jeanne Erickson. “They wanted to have a place where people could stimulate grassroots advocacy and to brainstorm and support each other in their work.”
Nan Cheney, a prominent Madison peace activist who spent decades involved in social justice, anti-war, and environmental activism, passed away in 2010.
The SJC recently celebrated its 12th birthday with a celebration at the Goodman Community where it handed out 2012 Social Justice Awards including a Legacy Award that went to Charles and Constance Smalley and a Visionary Award that went to the Teaching Assistants' Association (TAA). Ruth Conniff, the political editor for The Progressive Magazine, was the emcee of the event.
“That was such a wonderful event,” Erickson says. “To be able to honor amazing people like Chuck and Connie Smalley along with the Teaching Assistants’ Association…. That was just a great day.”
Today, there are now five partner agencies at SJC. Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund has moved to Milwaukee, but WYOU — a public, educational, and government access (PEG) cable television station — has moved in. Dane County Time Bank has also become a partner in the building.
The SJC is home to the Jackie Macaulay Gallery, a gallery for artists to display local, socially conscious, social justice-inspired, and humanitarian-themed art. The gallery is open daily during regular business hours and hosts a monthly artist open house. The main floor features the Nan Cheney Community Room available for use by the organizations in the building. This community room is where community groups can come in and brainstorm ideas.
Resident organizations share the responsibilities of administration, maintenance, and governance of the building. Located in the lower level of the SJC is the incubator, a no-frills shared office space that serves small and start-up non-profit organizations. “There are nine organizations plus the Social Justice Center office downstairs in the incubator,” Erickson says. “The whole idea for an incubator is for start-up nonprofits to share space ... some have been there for a lot longer than just start up.
“The Social Justice Center’s purpose is to provide a place for nonprofits to be able to do their work,” Erickson adds. “The Center provides extremely low rent … we raised our rent for the first time in 10 years for all of the tenants just recently. We provide all of the technical report, electricity, DSL, and extra infrastructure.”
The SJC tries to serve a diverse population in Madison.
“The beauty of the social justice center is its tenants. With the increase in the visibility of the Social Justice Center, I get a lot of calls from people who say, ‘I have this problem or I have that problem’ and I’m able to direct them to the agencies that they need to go to here or to outside agencies,” Erickson says. “The agencies — especially TRC — really do serve a high number of minorities because of their work with housing.”
The Wisconsin Community Fund will be moving out soon and Club Today Not Tomorrow will be moving in which should increase the presence of minorities. The youth-produced "Club TNT" television program promotes positive lifestyle choices that build self-esteem and confidence.
Budget cuts have really hurt the SJC, but it has also brought all of the agencies and components together even more.
“The agencies have felt the impact of Gov. Walker. Funding has been cut on so many levels,” Erickson says. “The state of disarray within the state of Wisconsin has really created an impact on nonprofits.”
But budget cuts and tough economic times have only made the 12-year-old SJC stronger and Erickson sees a bright future.
“We want to continue to provide the services that we’ve been providing to our tenants and to keep the rents down,” Erickson says. “We also want to keep our incubator tenants connected with each other and also connected with the first floor so we can have the full power of everybody working together.
“We have some expansions we would like to make here and hopefully to be able to serve and to connect more people who need our help,” Erickson adds. “We want to continue to increase our visibility more and to continue to form more partnerships and connections.”
For more information, visit www.socialjusticecenter.org