By Lisa Speckhard

This fall, Nehemiah started a training and support program to grow and support black leaders in the Madison community.

One of the stated five focus areas of Justified Anger is leadership and capacity development; Our Madison Plan states that Justified Anger wants to “increase the number of African-Americans in leadership positions in a variety of fields in Madison businesses and institutions.”  Nehemiah’s Leadership and Community Development Institute (LCDI) has begun to equip its first cohort of black leaders.

“We have a great framework, and I know that we have passionate folks who are ready to move this forward,” said Carrie Vanderford Sanders, Director of Community and Economic Development at the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership.

Before forming the leadership program, LCDI spent time researching and listening to ensure it wouldn’t create a program replicating services offered elsewhere in the community. After community discussion, it became clear that there was a need for a safe place for black leaders to discuss their unique challenges.

“We really have to create a program that is a safe space for black leaders to thrive and strive and learn, and be vulnerable and talk in real terms about the challenges that are distinctive in this context,” Sanders said.

A few months in, participants have found that this is just what LCDI provides.

“The idea of it being a really welcoming, safe place to really grow, I keep hearing that,” Sanders said.

The 15 members making up the first cohort was intentionally selected to represent a range of business backgrounds, including the nonprofit, private, government and entrepreneurial words, and hail from companies like American Family Insurance, Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, Public Health Madison and Dane County, start-ups. About a quarter of the participants are sponsored by their employing organizations.

“Our goal of having a diverse cross section of sectors represented, 100 percent was achieved,” Sanders said.

The cohort attends monthly sessions featuring presentations from black business leader. October’s session featured BMO Harris vice-president of mortgage-lending Jeff Mack talking about his experience in entrepreneurship and Henry Sanders, founder of the news website Madison365, sharing from his rich history of civic engagement, Sanders said.

The talks are followed by discussion.

“There’s hard questions, good questions,” Sanders said. “We’re trying to create a space where these questions are welcome.”

Soon, the groups will be breaking into teams to tackle three of the areas outlined on Our Madison Plan: education, family and community wellness and economic development. They’ll be working on social innovation projects in these areas for the duration of their nine-month program, and then will pass off their projects to the next cohort.

“I’m really excited to see how we can use the Justified Anger framework and identification of these issue areas … to start making progress on the very, very vast and large and important goals that are outlined in Justified Anger,” Sanders said.

As this is the first cohort, Sanders doesn’t know quite what to expect, but she’s excited.

“I am really looking forward to the creativity of these cohorts to say, ‘Here’s what could work, let’s try this, let’s move this forward.,’” she said. “I have no idea what they’re going to come up with but I know, just based on the creativity and intellectual power that’s there, it’s going to be game-changing.”