New blog to focus on Madison’s diversity

madison skyline

I was having coffee last week at Collectivo on Monroe Street with Jeff Holcomb of the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau when we started talking about a certain kind of energy that we’ve noticed in Madison.

Holcomb and I were meeting because he heard me give a talk in January, at Downtown Madison Inc.’s “What’s Up Downtown” breakfast, about the importance of telling the whole story of Madison’s rich cultural diversity. At that event I also spoke about my Ho-Chunk people’s ties to this land, and Holcomb suggested that we get together to discuss possibly incorporating aspects of Native American culture into some upcoming events in the area. When we did, the conversation eventually drifted into trying to articulate the positive energy that we both have felt at times when we’re in the heart of Madison.

We differ on the possible source of this positive vibe. He says he senses this energy most often at Monona Terrace and thinks it may stem from Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and curvilinear design. The style complements the stunning view overlooking Lake Monona.

I credit the mound builders, whose effigy mounds can be found in and around the city and remind us that an ancient civilization once dwelt here.

This brings me to the point of why I’m starting this blog and why it’s called The Whole Story.

Madison so often has been described as this beautiful place that got its start when James Doty bought and plotted land on the isthmus, which laid the groundwork for Madison to become the center of state government, a thriving economy and a world-class university. All of that is true, but it leaves out too many important points about who we are as a community. It fails to include the history of this area and the many cultures that make it what it is today. I hope to bring some of those details to light.

For example, when I hear people talking about Madison’s history, I rarely hear them mention the mounds, despite the fact that Dane County once had more than 1,500 earthen mounds, according to a 1994 publication by the City of Madison and the Native American Center. If we start reminding people of the important pieces of our history, they become an integral part of our city’s narrative. The same holds true of what’s happening in our community today.

Since I moved back to the area a year ago, I’ve heard much talk about the Race to Equity Report, which identified some vast disparities between whites and African Americans in education, employment, incarceration rates and other areas. The report challenged the notion that Madison is a great place to live for all of its residents. And while many of the statistics cited in the report are tough to absorb, it’s important also to seek out and talk about the positive things that are taking place in the local African American community. The whole story of Madison.

The same holds true for the Latino and Asian American communities, as well as the LGBT community and other residents of diverse backgrounds in Madison. We cannot tell the whole story of Madison without them.

It’s interesting that in our attempts to define this positive energy within Madison, Holcomb and I each gravitated to what we know. For him, it’s the organic and harmonious design of a forward-thinking architect who built a beautiful gathering place for the community. For me, it’s the spirit of the ancient people who built sacred mounds on which they offered prayers for generations yet to be born.

Maybe we’re both right. That’s the beauty in trying to uncover the whole story of Madison.