I can hardly believe that it was 20 years ago that I left my job at UW-Madison in order to establish the Nehemiah Community Development Corporation. This has been an incredible journey!
I can clearly remember how the pieces of this vision began to come together...
• In the early ‘90s, I was the Minority Affairs Director in the School of Pharmacy and I was responsible for recruiting students of color to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I was in Detroit recruiting and noticed that certain students were not encouraged to visit my booth because we had a reputation of recruiting the best college prep students. I asked myself, “Who is helping these students to become ‘recruitable’ when they are in third grade?” I told myself that it was easy to recruit qualified students and that I should devote my energy to empowering struggling students.
• And, there was the time that I was invited to attend an urban ministry conference in Chicago with friends from Christ Presbyterian Church in the early ‘90s. The speakers and panelists were leaders from the faith community who had started community-based schools, daycares, clinics, housing programs, drug rehabilitation housing, restaurants, senior centers, etc. I felt so at home among those leaders. I told myself that I could commit the rest of my life to that kind of work...
• I remember surveying our small, young congregation in order to assess our collective skill sets which would be needed for a community-based enterprise and found that we had many talents. Many of us were college students or recent college graduates who held degrees in the areas of education, African American studies, psychology and business/economics. My sister and mother were both social workers. We felt that the UW had adequately trained us to become community-based worldchangers.
• Lastly, I remember asking the leaders of our children's team (Fabu Mogaka, Sherry Lucille, and others) to create a homework club for kids in Sommerset Circle. A colleague noticed our Sommerset program and encouraged me to create a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and solicit funds to create programs like the one in Sommerset Circle...
I also remember sharing the vision of creating a community-based social service program with our congregation, and they loved it. I then felt empowered to share that vision with area pastors who felt so inspired by the concept that several of them actually agreed to become part of the planning committee for Nehemiah. We decided to apply for a grant from the Madison Community Foundation in 1992 and received the start-up funds that were necessary for me to take a leave from my position on campus and start the Nehemiah Corporation.
That was 20 wonderful years ago!
Today, we are called The Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development. Our tagline states that we are changing the face of leadership. We place a great deal of emphasis on empowering the African American family ... especially the African American male. We currently develop youth and adult leaders through six areas of programming: youth leadership, healthy programs, social justice and reconciliation, economic empowerment, arts and culture, and emerging leaders. One of our most exciting new endeavors is the creation of the South Madison Center for Culture and Community (www.southmadisonccc.org), a multicultural and multigenerational community gathering hub where the beauty of South Madison’s culture will be put on display through plays, concerts, films, lectures, meals, art shows, and educational and enrichment seminars.
Our 20th Anniversary Celebration will be held this Friday, Nov 16, 6-9 p.m. at the Micah Center at High Point Church (7702 Old Sauk Road). Please e-mail us at www.nehemiahs20th.eventbrite.com to reserve your place. To find out how you can volunteer, make donations, or simply learn more about our great work, check out our new website at www.Nehemiah.org.
Thank you, Greater Madison (South Madison, in particular), for welcoming our presence and programming for the past two decades. It has been our honor to serve you!
Dr. Gee is the senior pastor of Fountain of Life Church and the president/founder of The Nehemiah Corporation. You can find out more about Dr. Alex Gee at www.alexgee.com or follow him on Twitter at @alexgeejr.