Michel: Reshaping Madison’s narrative

Madison Magazine's editor Karen Lincoln Michel...
Michel: Reshaping Madison’s narrative
Karen Lincoln Michel (third from left) spoke at Downtown Madison Inc.'s "What's Up Downtown?" breakfast on Jan. 28.

I smile whenever I hear people describe Madison as one of the best places to live. I agree, but not necessarily for the reasons you may think. Lately I’ve been questioning the popular story that people tell of Madison–that it’s a progressive city located on a beautiful isthmus plotted in 1837 by James Doty, and that his actions paved the way for it to be the center of state government, commerce and a world-class university. True, but that version excludes so much. It’s time to revisit the story.

In January I posed this question to members of Downtown Madison Inc.: “What if we reshape the narrative of Madison so that we emphasize its rich history and its diversity?” I spoke those words after talking about how my Ho-Chunk people have lived here for countless generations, before Wisconsin was known as the Badger State and before the United States became a nation. Nowhere in the bragging about Madison–a mid-size city whose population is becoming increasingly diverse–is there any mention of the indigenous people of this land and the diverse communities that have followed. We’ve got to change that.

Since giving that talk at DMI’s “What’s Up Downtown?” breakfast, I have received a wave of positive feedback. I consider it a sign that civic leaders and members of the business community are in touch with the changing times. The January issue of Madison Magazine focused on the change unfolding across our city and the innovation and collaboration that new leadership is bringing. It’s refreshing to see it in action.

Now that I’ve posed the question of reshaping the narrative, I’ve taken another step. I’ve started a blog on Madison Magazine‘s webpage. The blog, called The Whole Story, raises questions and offers ideas about how all communities can have a voice in Madison. It will occasionally include interesting happenings in neighborhoods and communities that often go unnoticed–the kind of experiences that are vital in telling the whole story of Madison.

Together, let’s reshape the narrative.