Honoring black contributions in Madison

Strengthening diversity and expanding opportunities is not only in the lesson plan for students in the Middleton-Cross Plains district, but also for their staff.

“To be able to diversify the system has probably been the greatest accomplishment but the biggest one is engaging the students in black history as well as Latino history,” said Percy Brown, Middleton-Cross Plains director of equity and student achievement.

Brown is one of dozens of African Americans in Dane County being highlighted for his contributions to black history in Madison as the district director of equity and student achievement and the first African American executive on staff. An electronic book spearheaded by the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County with help from Madison 365 and the Cap Times honors more than 175 years of black achievement.

Within the last four years, Brown has seen more blacks and Latinos hired in leadership positions, created opportunities for students of color to visit culturally historic place across the nation, including trips to New York, Washington D.C., and historically black colleges.

“To see kids connecting to their history has been so jaw-dropping in terms of their level of inspiration and aspirations to do better than what they have been doing and what they are experiencing in our school system,” he said.

Brown said he hopes he can bring what students learn on those trips to the classroom by including curriculum to focus on ethnic studies.

“To be able to impart that in black kids can be that thing that changes the trajectory to give them the perseverance and resilience to say, I don’t care how racist this system can be or what I’m going to encounter with barriers, you know what? I’m standing on some folks that were phenomenal,” Brown said.

It’s a lesson that transfers into adulthood and one other African American leaders honored in the book said are not highlighted enough.

Honoring black contributions in Madison

“Its critical more than we recognize and more than we know because if we don’t see those examples we have nothing to look forward to, we have nothing to grow towards,” said Keetra Burnette,
founder of Madison Black Women Rock.

Burnette launched the local award ceremony in 2012 to highlight the accomplishments of black women in Madison.

“It’s really important specifically for black women to see women who look like them doing their own thing, being passionate about the work that they do, being supported by their sisterhood and winning,” she said.

The idea of the annual award ceremony came from BET’s “black Girls Rock” which celebrates women of color in different fields, including music, entertainment, medicine, and entrepreneurship. Burnette said the event gives a space and opportunity to not only recognize women’s accomplishments but more importantly creates a network of support.

“It’s an annual celebration of black women across our community that are doing amazing things despite the fact that each and every day we have to push against systems of oppression, microaggressions, and knowing that we are surviving those things and still winning and still giving back to our communities means the world to me,” she said.

Honoring black contributions in Madison