Vol. 3    No. 9
May 1, 2008
Trail of Many Tears
Celebrating Asian Pacific American
Heritage Month
I don’t know how this column is going to turn out. It’s 6 a.m. and I’ve been up most of the night frantically writing
story after story in the hope of meeting my printing deadline. After this column, I have one more story to write
before my 8 a.m. deadline.
Last Monday, the State of Black Madison Coalition, a newly formed group, released the report “The State of
Black Madison 2008: Before the Tipping Point,” at the Genesis Development Corporation’s business incubator on
the Beltline Hwy. Scott Gray, president/CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, Dr. Richard Harris of
Genesis, Ken Black of 100 Black Men and others released this 26 page report — it’s been circulating on the
Internet as a PDF file and can be downloaded from the Urban League’s website — details alarming, yet not new,
statistics on Madison’s Black community in the areas of criminal justice, economic well-being, education, health
care, housing and political influence. For instance, in the economic well-being section, it reports that the
median household income for Black families is $22,000 less than that of the median household income for all
Dane County families. That works out to $10.58 per hour for someone working a 40 hour work week. That’s a big
The troubling statistics in this report are nothing new. I remember when I first started working at the Urban League
back in 1982. Dr. Hazel Symonette released a report through the Urban League at that time on the socio-
economic make-up of Black families living in subsidized housing. Under Betty Franklin-Hammonds leadership in
1988, the Urban League released a study on the academic achievement gap between White and Black students.
And back in 1999, the Madison Task Force on Race Relations released its report that called for some sweeping
measures. I’m sure there have been other reports of which I am unaware.
So it almost seems that we have this cycle going on, almost like “Groundhog Day’ where a report is released on
the state of the Black community, a flurry of activity occurs and resources are pledged. Some minor results are
achieved and people are lulled into a state of apathy. Then the resources are pulled or are left stagnant as other
hot, sexy issues arise. And then the state of the Black community stagnates or declines. And then pop, some type
of racial incident happens, everyone gets concerned and a new report is released. And the cycle starts all over
So the State of Black Madison that the Coalition recently painted is not something new. But the title of the
report, “Before the Tipping Point,” should be. There is a slow burning ember that burns in places within the Black
community. While we don’t have many places that look it, there are communities of hopelessness in the city of
Madison. And while those embers smolder, no one seems to notice them. But come the high winds of an
economic recession — Madison’s unemployment rate has been inching upwards — and those flames could flare
up and spread.
Well, it’s in this community’s self-interest to see that those on the lower economic rung of our community are
helped in climbing a few of those rungs so that they can obtain a decent education and get adequate health
care and make a meaningful contribution to our ever increasing technological society. When the “baby boom”
generation retires, it will be dependent upon those in the lower rungs to make that climb in order for the baby
boomer’s stocks and bonds and social security to maintain their value. Value is a fluid concept and if not enough
healthy, skilled people are out there creating and maintaining value, then the value of our collective retirement
nests will be worth a lot less. The stock market and the dollar can go lower.
So while we may not look beyond our own narrow self-interest, we had better be looking at our broader self-
interest and that of our community and make the necessary investments to maintain our high quality of life in the
Madison area.
One such investment that Madison should be making is in the Urban League’s new economic and community
development center that is slated to be built on the grounds of the Villager Mall. While the Urban League plans
on breaking ground in August, it still needs to raise some money to complete the deal. This center has the
potential to strike at several of the ills plaguing the Black community. A small investment now could make the
difference as Madison competes in our ever-changing global marketplace.
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
Same old story?