The Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development has changed lives in its 25 years, said Rev. Alex Gee, the founder and president of the organization, and that’s a reason to celebrate.
“It’s been a tough season for Madison and we think we need a win,” Gee said in a video announcement for a party scheduled for this Friday. “We’re just going to party and celebrate how good it’s been to serve this community.”
There will be a free celebration on Friday, Nov. 3, at the Overture Center, 201 State St., from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., with dessert, a word from Gee, music and stories.
“Anytime you're doing work in nonprofits, trying to right ills in society, it's tough to do that day in and day out,” said Harry Hawkins, director of operations at Justified Anger, a project of Nehemiah. “Every now and then it’s good for everyone to see and acknowledge, and celebrate.”
The Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development opened in 1991 to empower African-American families.
The center was dreamed up by a group of African-American friends, including Gee, who wanted to do more for the kids of color in a city that was letting them down.
Many in the group were University of Wisconsin-Madison students, and made the decision to stay in the city after graduation despite the lack of a large, established black community.
“When Alex challenged them to stay in Madison to give back to the community and help build a black middle class, they took up the challenge and made the difficult decision to stick it out. In the minds of these Christian young people, that commitment was part of being the Church,” the organization’s website says.
When the Nehemiah organization became a reality in 1992, an article in the Wisconsin State Journal heralded its arrival.
“The non-profit Christian development corporation hopes to achieve through church partnerships what government social welfare programs haven’t: Keep ex-offenders from returning to prison, break cycles of welfare dependency and provide a chance for success to young black males mistakenly labeled incorrigible or unteachable,” it read.
Today, Nehemiah continues to work for the community, providing youth and adult leadership development, re-entry services, economic development and community wellness programs.
In a recent op-ed, Gee shared stories of the generational change Nehemiah has seen over the years. He told stories of people with troubled pasts who came to Nehemiah, and eventually found success, advanced degrees and personal transformation.
“(Nehemiah) has been a constant place in the community where unconditional love, high expectations, and cultural affirmation abound for children and families," he wrote.
Gee will address the history of the organization and cast a vision for the future in a talk at Friday’s celebration. In the op-ed piece, Gee said that Nehemiah wants to triple its capacity and focus on wealth generation and economic development for African-Americans.
“We’re trying to create a good balance between celebrating what we've done over the past 25 years and also with an eye towards the future,” Hawkins said. “There are some people that don’t know all the work that we do.”