12 on Tuesday: Madison365 CEO Henry Sanders

12 on Tuesday: Madison365 CEO Henry Sanders
Madison365 CEO and Publisher Henry Sanders

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Over the last few months, I’ve asked several community leaders and influencers 12 questions each, about everything from their favorite MCs to leaders who inspire them to their hopes and dreams for Greater Madison. They’ve been insightful, wise and remarkably candid.

But fair is fair, so a few weeks ago we invited them to ask their own questions of me, as CEO and publisher of Madison365. The questions were insightful and really made me think. Here are my answers.

What are the two most important action items we as black people can do to better ourselves in a place such as Madison?

The first is the easiest. Be supportive of each other. Recognize that “us” together is better then “us” divided. If someone is getting recognition, support them. It doesn’t take away from the things you are doing. Everyone deserves their own season. If someone is doing something differently than you would, see the beauty in that. We all have different gifts and weaknesses. Martin Luther King, Jr. needed Malcolm and Thurgood Marshall to help accomplish his goals, and vice versa.

Let me give you some local examples. Not everyone can be Brandi Grayson. She has a unique story and her unique view of how things should be done. Don’t try to bring her down because she isn’t using the tactics or type of words you would or wouldn’t use. Instead, try looking at her struggle and the fact that she is speaking for the same people you feel need a voice. If you disagree with her, that’s fine, but disagree on the facts.

Michael Johnson is another person. Don’t hate on him if he is building the Boys and Girls Club in his own way, or be mad if he is getting shine that others are not. Appreciate what he is doing for our kids. His ability to get press and build relationships with donors is a means to an end and for a cause we all support.

Imagine if this community didn’t have a Michael or a Brandi right now. Love each other and respect our different ways. I mention Michael and Brandi only because they are clearly two of the most recognizable names in our community right now. At the same time, let’s make sure we hold each other accountable, but do that in respectful ways. If our community can’t show each other respect and love, how can we expect anyone else to do it?

The second thing we can do should not be difficult either. We need to create a community asset inventory. We need a real assessment of what resources we have available, and then make the most of those resources. While it will take focus, leadership, and vision to get it done, Madison has the resources and is small enough to get this done quickly.

Greater Madison has more than 6,000 non-profit organizations. Only about 20 of these non-profits, maybe less (not including our churches), have missions focused on people of color. First, let’s see how those organizations are doing. If they are doing well, let’s figure out what can we do to help them accelerate their effectiveness. Do they have enough staff, funding, space, resources? We then need to see what organizations have programs that are focusing on helping people of color. Once we do that we need to find out who is doing what. For example, who is doing mentoring or reentry programs? Once we do this asset map of the programs and services, we should know where there are duplications, gaps and opportunities.

We need to study, emulate, build best practices and expand those programs that work. Where we find gaps, we need to be innovative and bold on potential solutions.

The glaring gaps for communities of color are in small business ownership, C-suite type of positions in our corporations (Senior Vice Presidents/ Vice Presidents/Directors) and Boards of Directors. This is a huge problem for Dane County. If we can’t get this part right we will not be able to compete within the Midwest or the United States for talent recruitment and retention.

We need to align on metrics to be able to tell, in the short term, whether something is working or not. When initiatives do not work, let’s recognize that quickly and stop the program and try something else.

Asset mapping is an opportunity to bring business, education, faith community, government, and non-profits together in common cause. A big key is “us” agreeing on the data and metrics to measure success. This alliance would also make sure we are not moving in isolation. Lastly, we would have to go to our philanthropic community with this plan and tell them that this is what we need to get this done. Some of it is money, expertise, and loaned staff. If we do this, with the support and love, I believe we could really start seeing results.

What’s the one thing we don’t know about you, and do you have a nickname?

Hmmm, good question. Easier one first: My nickname is “H”. People who grew up with me know me by the nickname “H” and still call me it to this day.

I guess a lot of people don’t know that one of my three-year-old twins – little Henry – has Down Syndrome. He is such a blessing, as are all my kids. But little Henry (maybe I should start calling him “H” or “Little H”) has taught me more about patience, love and joy than I ever thought possible.

What is the most surprising thing you have learned since you started Madison365?

What has surprised me the most is how some funders tend to put all organizations run by people of color in the same category. I will give you an example. A potential funder said to us that they couldn’t fund us because they were going to fund Justified Anger. They didn’t mean this with any kind of malice – they just figured they were already in the diversity game, and that was enough. Imagine a business saying they couldn’t buy ads in Madison Magazine because they are going to give money to the Chamber of Commerce. These are different organizations with very different missions – just like Madison365 and Justified Anger. The only common denominator is that both organizations are run by a black man. P.S., I love you, Pastor Gee! Sadly, he probably also hears those type of comments.

We’ve seen many of your accomplishments. But, what would you say is your one greatest joy?

That is a softball! My family. My parents, my wife, my siblings and my kids are gifts from God. I would add that still being close to my friends from growing up is a joy.

Who’s the most underrated Biblical figure?

Joseph, Mary’s husband. Think about it. This is a simplified version of the story, but it gets the point across. The guy has a fiancee, or wife, depending on how you read the translation, who he finds out is pregnant. Yet she tells him she is still a virgin. He then finds out that baby is going to be the Savior of the world. The baby is born and immediately he has to leave his homeland because the child’s life is in danger. All because of this child that wasn’t his seed. Jesus then, at around 11 years of age, goes missing; when Mary and Joseph find Jesus he says, “didn’t you know I had to be in father’s house,” acknowledging that Joseph was not his father and someone else had higher priority. To withstand that had to take Faith! Enormous amount of Faith. Especially in those times.

Job is a close second to me.

What is your favorite story or piece published by Madison365?

I don’t have one favorite piece. I truly enjoy seeing the growth of the writers and how bold they are to share their truths. I am honored they are allowing me to be along for the ride.

Goodfellas  or  The Godfather ? Which one and why?

When I was younger I would have easily said  The Godfather . But now neither.

You have never consumed alcohol or used illegal drugs. Why not?

When I was younger I used to think I didn’t drink because I was in sports big time, from third grade on to my late 20s. But as I get older and more reflective, I realize how much mom hated my dad and other family members drinking. That stuck with me. Plus, I saw a lot of my friends growing up go to prison or jail because of their involvement with drugs. Now as a 42-year-old man I just don’t see the point.

You live in the suburbs. What’s up with that?

If I am being honest, it’s because I didn’t want to take the risk of my kids being in the Madison Metropolitan School District . The numbers speak for themselves in terms of how kids of color are doing in MMSD. I owe it to my kids to give them every chance they can to succeed. It hurts me to say that out loud.

What’s your next move?

Focus on sustaining and growing Madison365.

There seems to be a growing divide between young minorities and aging minorities, primarily prompted by younger people who are saying “it is now our time to lead; older folk get out of the way.” I think that this is unfortunate and divisive and definitely not a time that the community should be divided. I do believe that we are blessed to have an abundance of both young and seasoned minority professionals in this community. I will admit that diversity of age is becoming just as critical as race; we need multiple perspectives.  We have some very talented young people in this community and talented older people who are great leaders too. Older African Americans have faced multiple forms of discrimination such as race, sometime gender and now age discrimination. This is not deserved. How do you suggest that we co-exist, grow the next generation of leaders, but not disrespect seasoned leaders who have earned the opportunity to lead in the greater Madison community?

Great and deep question, but begs another: How are you defining leadership? Research shows younger generations don’t define leadership by a job title as much as the Baby Boomer generation does. Just by that data alone, you are going to have generational conflict. I had a lot of mentors, including Eugene Parks, Lamarr Billups, Milt McPike and Steve Braunginn just to name a few, and I worked for Kirby Mack and Dr. Anthony Brown.

Kirby, Braunginn, and Dr. Brown in my opinion were the last truly effective leaders we had for civil rights in our community. (Kaleem Caire, in his tenure at the Urban League, was the closest I’ve seen in my generation to Kirby, Braunginn and Brown.) I bring these six icons of our community up because they all had different styles. They all didn’t always get along. But you almost never hear younger folks talk bad about them. Why? They all had something in common.

They mentored and gave real opportunities to youth of color. I know that first hand.

Kirby made me Youth Chair of the NAACP at the age of 26. Steve Braunginn brought me on the board of the Urban League in my early 20s because he felt I had potential. Those experiences are priceless. Dr. Brown literally created an internship spot for me when he didn’t need an intern, which lead me to become an ASPIRE intern. Eugene would have me over to his place once a month to talk history and strategy. Lamar spoke with me weekly. Mr. McPike (never Milt to me!) was a presence in my life even after I left high school, until he passed away. Even as his health was failing, Mr. McPike made it to one of my campaign parades, just to make sure I was representing the East Side community correctly. These legends all realized for the community to thrive, you have to invest in the next generation.

Juan Jose Lopez (another legend) told me something about a month ago. He said the way he stays relevant is not to put younger leaders down, but to provide wisdom when they ask and he doesn’t get caught up in how they did things 20 years ago. This is Juan Lopez, folks. When history books are written for the Latino community in Madison, Juan will be front and center. Yet, this legend, who still remains relevant, recognizes the importance of letting the next generation grow and have their voice. I believe our elders who invest in the younger generations do get the next generations respect.

If you run for lieutenant governor again, what would you do differently?

I won’t run for political office again. I have a lot love for people regardless of political party. It’s hard for me to take on the “us versus them” attitude that’s so necessary in politics. I want to use any small gift God has given me to help build and uplift people.

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