Alex Gee remembers the energy crisis of the late 1970s well. In particular, he remembers former President Jimmy Carter addressing the country on television.
“‘He said energy isn’t our biggest issue, we have a crisis of confidence and hope,’” Gee recalled Saturday from the pulpit of Fountain of Life Covenant Church in south Madison. “He also said, this problem is not going to be fixed in the White House but in each of your houses. That’s where the power is.”
Carter asked people to sacrifice in order to save energy: one less trip, carpool, use public transportation, turn off the air conditioner.
“I was 12 and couldn’t vote, but I could turn off light switches,” Gee said. “And to this day that’s what I do.”
The Carter anecdote was part of a 90-minute presentation by Gee and members of his Justified Anger Coalition team, during which they challenged Madisonians to do their own part to help close the city’s racial disparities and eliminate racism. Gee also provided an update on the progress of the group’s central initiative, “Our Madison Plan,” which was first unveiled in May of 2015.
Gee created the Justified Anger Coalition soon after writing an essay under that title for the Cap Times detailing some of the racism he has encountered during his life living, attending college and working as pastor of Fountain of Life.
Gee said the much of coalition’s efforts have been directed at the Meadowood neighborhood over the past year. Its goals there are to support community leaders and “champion” efforts currently underway to reduce disparities with an eye toward sustainability.
“We wanted to identify the leaders already present, not the ones we select or bring with us,” Gee said. “Who speaks and others listen? Who can say ‘come over here’ and others will do it. Who can tell kids to watch their mouths and take your hat off inside this house and they will do it?”
Gee said one goal is to connect those leaders with social workers, service providers and city staff in a way that can be used as a template for other neighborhoods. He introduced Jackie Hunt, a member of his staff, who is spearheading the Justified Anger efforts in Meadowood.
“Over in Meadowood I consider myself a mole. I was sent over there to blend into the community, which I can do,” Hunt said. “I got to know the heartbeat of the community.”
Hunt spoke specifically about supporting some of the women in the neighborhood to establish women’s health clinics at the Meadowood Community Center, a mother’s group and a kid’s group.
Karen Reece, who works as a researcher for the coalition, addressed a feeling in Meadowood that residents have been surveyed several times, but never learned about the results of those surveyed. She detailed efforts to compile data from those surveys and draw conclusions that represent community priorities.
Gee closed the event by saying those who ask him how they can get involved can accept a challenge similar to the one he accepted from Jimmy Carter almost 40 years ago.
“Please hear this in the spirit of love, but I think there’s a sense among white Madisonians that you’re worried you’re going to do something wrong,” Gee said. “If you don’t want to make mistakes, you don’t want to help race relations. You’re going to do something that’s wrong, say something that’s wrong. You’re going to try to be nice and before you know it you’re going to say, ‘you know they’re very articulate’ and then ‘Oh! I shouldn’t have said that!’
“But making mistakes means you’re doing something.”