Progress Center for Black Women CEO Highlights Organization’s Efforts to Support Black Women in Madison

Returning to Madison, Wisconsin, after a public speaking engagement in Atlanta, Sabrina Madison expected to see another black woman in the organization that had booked her, especially since the organization served people of color. However, when she arrived, Madison recalled, “it was all the white women looking at me. And I was so disappointed. »

In early 2016, Madison spoke in cities across the United States and noticed that black people, especially black women, do not have the same access and opportunities as white people. There was an absence of women of color in leadership positions, and seeing the all-white crowd in an organization that served people of color was truly painful.

Two weeks later, she quit her job at Madison Area Technical College.

“I’m like, I’m just going to go work for black women, I’m going to create leadership opportunities for us,” Madison said.

Madison emphasized centering on black women and families. Wisconsin ranks among the poorest states in terms of black poverty, with black Wisconsin residents 5.3 times more likely to live in poverty than their white neighbors — the second highest poverty gap in the country.

Specifically, in Dane County, black women earn $15,000 less per year than white women.

“The city still has a ways to go for the average black person,” Madison said. “It’s hard to retain black people in a community where you can feel unsupported.”

Under her brand name “Heymiss Progress”, Madison created the Black Women’s Leadership Conference, a conference for black women in Wisconsin seeking leadership opportunities. The conference has sold out every year since its inception, attracting people from states ranging from California to North Carolina. Following the success of the conference, Madison created the Black Business Expo and the Black Excellence Youth Conference.

But, in 2017, still traveling the country as an entrepreneur, she realized that a key environment missing in Madison was a black women-centric coworking space.

“[It looked like I had] to create a space where when I walk in, I feel comfortable,” Madison said. “The black woman I serve feels comfortable. Their children feel comfortable.

In October 2017, Madison launched the Progress Center for Black Women, of which she is the CEO. Thanks to a fundraising campaign, the center opened in Fitchburg in November 2018, serving the community and testing new ways to help people. A not-for-profit organization, the center focuses primarily on entrepreneurship, professional development and financial health, helping members through a variety of specialized programs and support services.

One of the center’s programs, under a roofprovides both immediate interventions and long-term strategies to help those in need.

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“Someone who comes to us and needs a little more support, whether it’s financial, whether it’s mental health, [we] it’s just really wrapping our resources around them and supporting them with education, sometimes with funding, really helping them achieve some sort of short-term and long-term goal,” Madison explained. “We [also] doing a bunch of community stuff, like we have kids visiting our space and hanging around because we might do pop-ups with our progress van. So a bit of everything. »

Another program is The Financial Health Academy, a six- to eight-week individualized program launched to help people in financial difficulty. With funding from the UW Credit Union through United Way, the center connects financial health programs with mental health professionals, addressing two major concerns.

The program includes the whole family, which Madison says helps ease the stress of doing it alone and builds generational knowledge about financial health. At the end of the program, each family receives $1,000 to invest in their financial security.

While anyone can participate in the programming, Madison said the center focuses more on registered members because they spend more time with them and are able to customize programs to meet their needs.

Members can take advantage of the coworking space, and a private membership site exists for people to network and engage with each other. There are different levels of membership, ranging from $25 to $50 per month, which provide access to different programs, although Madison said that if someone is unable to pay, the Center often offers them a free membership.

The issues that have driven people to the center have been exacerbated during the pandemic, which has also created a host of new issues. In response, the center dedicated 100% of its time to addressing the immediate mental health and funding needs of the community.

“[When the pandemic hit we had] people are reaching out, feeling isolated and you can just hear their mental health has taken a hit,” Sabrina said. “[We had] people who called us just for the conversation. And so what happened is that we shifted all of our financial resources, all of our resources to meet those immediate needs, like eviction prevention, transportation, food, household cleaning supplies, and so on. .

Last summer, the center moved to Capitol Square, becoming the first black-run and owned downtown space.

“When we created the Progress Center, there wasn’t another space in the area that was created by a black woman, led by black women where there wasn’t white leadership directing me like I was, I am the leadership,” Madison said. “People have created other spaces since then. But we were literally the first.

Her hope is that the downtown location may lead to more businesses owned by people of color in the area, especially on State Street where she observed a distinct absence of black culture or black-owned businesses. Black.

Newcomers to the center – who often come by word of mouth – seek help with everything from domestic abuse to confusion over how to complete tax forms. The center works not only to respond to people’s difficulties, but also to improve their general well-being.

“We’re nosy,” Madison said. “We want to know what else is going on in your household, [we’ll help] you generate more income. Make sure you don’t face eviction again. So we really look at our work like that, like, we take a holistic approach to work.

Looking to the future, the center’s next big goal is to launch a fundraising campaign to purchase its own building. They just launched a program called TO CONCENTRATEan eight- to ten-week accelerator designed to help Black entrepreneurs learn the key aspects of running a business while providing a supportive atmosphere where they can thrive.

Madison highlighted how the program was built with the entrepreneurs it will serve, which will ensure it more effectively helps entrepreneurs and their needs. Program orientation begins the last week of June.

You can donate to the Progress Center for Black Women here. Check out their Instagram: Progress Center for Black Women and their Twitter: @center4blkwomen to receive updates on upcoming events.

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Aubrey L. Morgan