The Rev. Alex Gee admits he had no idea about the response he would get to an article he wrote in December about his personal experiences with the racial divide in Madison.

In the days immediately following publication of his story in The Capital Times, Gee received scores of emails and calls from around the country. People from all walks of life stopped by the Fountain of Life Covenant Church on West Badger Road, where he is pastor, just to talk about the issues and offer support.

But he didn’t really feel the scope of reaction to his story until he looked out his office window Saturday in advance of a town hall meeting headlined “Justified Anger.”

Traffic was gridlocked on Park Street and Badger Road, cars filled every vacant parking spot in the area and more than 500 people — black and white — made their way to the church to listen to Gee and offer assistance in easing the problems of racial inequality in the community.

“This is overwhelming,” Gee told the crowd. “To see this kind of outpouring … I had to make sure this wasn’t my funeral when I came here. I was in the office and I watched the people and I said, ‘Is there a Badger football game today?’ ”

Rather than just a football game, Gee is confident that Saturday’s meeting will be looked upon someday as a turning point in Madison’s racial history. He envisions it becoming the city’s equivalent to the civil rights marches in Alabama in the 1960s.

“When we look back over time,” he said, “this is going to be something almost like one of those Edmund Pettus Bridge moments where we linked arms and said, ‘Doggone it, this is our time, this is our community and we’re not going to let it go to hell in a handbasket.’ ”

Gee understands that it will take more than words and good intentions to make significant change in the community. But he’s encouraged that there is a growing understanding of the issues and a desire to take on those issues.

He pointed out that he has heard from leaders from all parts of the political spectrum, from Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke to Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson — who was in attendance Saturday — as well as from Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and the office of Jennifer Cheatham, superintendent of Madison schools.

“Folks in this community are giving us every indication that they are taking this seriously,” Gee said. “Now’s the time for action. We don’t just need tears and Kumbaya.

“We’re at a critical juncture, a tipping point. Madison is really in a state of emergency.”

To keep the conversations moving, Gee has formed a coalition of black leaders, initially comprised of Urban League President and CEO Kaleem Caire, Boys & Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson, the Rev. Lilada Gee of Lilada’s Livingroom, Lisa Peyton Caire of the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, Patrick Yates of Fountain of Life Covenant Church, and Keetra Burnette, chief operating officer of the Urban League.

That group has helped set an agenda looking at systemic issues aimed to substantially reduce the racial disparity in the areas of education, incarceration and economic development.

The plan is to take those issues to groups of all stripes throughout the community and try to build solutions over the next 18 to 24 months.

“We want to rebuild hope in the hearts of our youth because they lost hope,” Gee said.

“When you lose hope, you become hopeless and you live like you have no future.

“We can change this community. We will be part of the team that can say we didn’t just talk about it, we didn’t just receive another report, we are part of doing something about it.”

Gee has a strong ally in Patrick Sims, vice provost and chief diversity officer at UW-Madison.

“Everything happens for a reason and we’re in the midst of grappling with some of the same issues and challenges,” Sims said. “So I think it’s only appropriate that in my capacity as chief diversity officer that we find ways to partner with everything that’s happening here.”

Gee is convinced that with everybody on board, Madison can live up to the Utopian vision of the city’s founder, James Doty.

“People don’t come to Madison to die, they come to dream,” Gee said.

“People don’t come to Madison so their kids can fail in school. People don’t come to Madison so their kids can go to prison and rot in their cell.

“Dreamers come to Madison, and when they feel excluded from the dream they become nightmares.

“All of a sudden, Madison pulls in its welcome mat. Because all these people with strange names and strange eyes and dark skins come and all of the sudden our Utopia looks different.

“We came for the same things as everybody else. It’s because we want to dream, too.

“Madison, put the welcome mat back out. We can’t undo history, but we better not repeat it.”

Dennis Punzel covers Wisconsin Badgers volleyball, women's basketball and hockey for the Wisconsin State Journal.

You might also like

(23) comments


In short - what I meant to say was simply that you can't just write off people being poor as a personal failing. There is so, so much more to the causes of poverty than that. And yes, its poverty that's underlying certain types of crime, not race (white collar crimes - like fraud and embezzlement - not so much. That recent lady who was busted for embezzlement - why didn't we see her lily white face in the Crimestoppers column, hmmmmm????)


kat, that is an ignorant and borderline racist comment. Crimestoppers only list FUGITIVES, which she was not. It also lists those with "lily white faces" too.


Its a both/and:

We all take personal responsibility for our families and ourselves as individuals.... AND we look at larger context of why we are the way we are and we correct the injustices. In particular... the enormous significance of housing and accrual of family wealth that is transferred from generation to generation....

From the program summary of Episode 3, Race: the power of illusion (FRONTLINE series):

"....we see how Italians, Jews and other European ethnics fared better, especially after World War II, when segregated suburbs like Levittown popped up around the country, built with the help of new federal policies and funding. Real estate practices and federal government regulations directed government-guaranteed loans to white homeowners and kept non-whites out, allowing those once previously considered "not quite white" to blend together and reap the advantages of whiteness, including the accumulation of equity and wealth as their homes increased in value. Those on the other side of the color line were denied the same opportunities for asset accumulation and upward mobility.

Today, the net worth of the average Black family is about 1/8 that of the average white family. Much of that difference derives from the value of the family's residence. Houses in predominantly white areas sell for much more than those in Black, Hispanic or integrated neighborhoods, and so power, wealth, and advantage - or the lack of it - are passed down from parent to child. Wealth isn't just luxury or profit; it's the starting point for the next generation.

How does the wealth gap translate into performance differences? New studies reveal that when the "family wealth gap" between African Americans and whites is taken into account, there is no difference in test scores, graduation rates, welfare usage and other measures. It's a lack of opportunities, not natural differences, that's responsible for continuing inequality. Wealth, more than any other measure, shows the accumulated impact of past discrimination, and shapes your life chances. "


Talk is cheap. The problems of poverty and ignorance can best be treated with education.
We need to do a better job of re-establishing education as a way up and out of the cycle of generational poverty, fatherless families, and incarceration. We also need to educate the majority population on the crippling effects of racism and low expectations. We have made a solid step with Jen Cheatham and her staff bringing energy and new ideas to our schools. Rev Gee and others can help by educating the majority population, but also by changing behaviors in their own communities. Baby step after baby step can lead to great strides. But the progress will come more from daily positive, productive action rather than words.

In Medias Res

I don't have any "masters", at least of the type I think you are referring to, but I have more than anecdotal experiences with the thuggery that smokescreen alludes to. As a left-leaning moderate, I would like to be more sympathetic, but the emotion of fear of death or bodily harm occurring if I have the temerity to walk somewhere alone at night tends to overwhelm the emotion of sympathy.


"The plan is to take those issues to groups of all stripes throughout the community and try to build solutions over the next 18 to 24 months."

I had to read this article twice in order to figure out why it was a long rant that contained no solutions from those complaining. Now I figured it out. They will get back to us in 18 to 24 months. In the meantime they will continue screaming racism while likely not mentioning how divorce, children born out of wedlock, single parent households, school truancy, poor graduation rates, disregard for laws, and a culture absent of personal responsibility creates the inequalities they claim to want to correct. Until the dirt is cleared from one's own doorstep it makes zero sense to blame others for your problems. They won't take you seriously. Also, if the most liberal city inside the most liberal county in the entire state isn't up to your standards then you better look for somewhere else to live. Illinois is a short drive.


Apparently the traditional Wisconsin strategy to incarcerate isn't having the desired effect,. So are you supporting a solution that addresses the psychosocial challenges that you espouse to be the causes of the problem? I would ask that you attend one of the meetings and raise your concerns and start a dialogue to improve the situation. Could you also provide us with citations of the sources from which you have developed your critique of race in Wisconsin?


If one doesn't want to be incarcerated then one shouldn't commit a crime. If there is a vicious cycle of events, the only way to stop it is to provide a break from the continuum. A law is not going to be written than excludes all non-white people for prosecution, so the only other spot is form the crime to not be committed in the first place.


Peoplefirst: read "Losing the Race" by John McWhorter a Black, former prof at Berkely now with a NE thinktank.

His research showed that American Blacks did poorly in school and after regardless how much money the school system was given--made no difference. Urban vs suburban schools, No difference.

His research also showed that first generation Blacks who newly moved to the US from Africa or the Caribbean performed in school just as well as White students. But, second generation Blacks from Africa and the Caribbean, regressed to the point that they did as poorly as Blacks whose families lived in the US for a long time.

This is the root of the problem. Incarceration rates is a symptom of this problem.So, yes, the psychosocial/cultural issues are what need to be addressed to solve this.

hoping for sanity

I just don't understand why these kind of efforts lead to such hateful remarks. Why do you take this as a personal attack? I see a lot of people making comments about other people's lives and I wonder what you know beyond your own opinion. Have you ever thought about where your opinion comes from? Why isn't it a great thing that people want to have better lives, equal access and equal opportunities? Why isn't it an important thing that people don't want to be spit at (I've witnessed this) and stereotyped as something lesser and bad? Can you imagine what that feels like??? Life is hard enough, why have to carry around these constant burdens? If you can't empathize with that, how about this? The more people are healthy and connected in a community, the better it I for the community as a whole. Why not try to find out more and help Madison be a great place to live for Everyone?


This divide and conquer crap goes deep. Superficial analyses that reinforce the myth of racial superiority reinforce the only winners, those in power.


I understand that this is an important topic in our city today, but at the same time, we have the majority of the crime articles have a suspect described as a "young black male" over and over. It's said we have a disparity in the judicial system, but when this is how the majority of suspects are described, what do you expect? This is an issue that needs to be addressed, but not at the level of the judicial system. More black men need to come forward as role models and point out that there is another way of life besides the thug life. Start at home with parents that actually parent. That's what we as a society need..


No facts, please, madtown, we're only interested in emotions, sentiment and victimhood. Get with it.


Or, @Madtowngal238, maybe the media could do a better job of reporting suspects and crimes committed by people of all races. There is a definite bias in reporting.


I am white and I am sick of having the media reporting how bad the minorities have it.

The racial problems are started by the uneducated races. Fact proven.

Why should we keep giving in and let the black/hispanic population tell us what "we" are doing wrong.

Why should a black/mexican youth be given "second chances" in the criminal justice system as newly proposed. "ohhhh. thats ok, just don't do it again"... LOL

Start at the root-PARENTING. Plain and simple.

This problem is a community problem because the parents of these animals do not set good examples for their own.

The truth hurts- and no one seems to want to "say it".


[haiku of a sort]

Ripped from the ether
Served up loudly as "the Truth"
Still anecdotal


Fact proven?? Please cite your source. If you don't think black/mexican youth should be given second chances, then should white youth be held to the same standard? Second chances should be made available to all young people. Animals?? Wow, glad you had the guts to post under your business name.


I'm inspired by Rev. Gee's comments. Hearing him for the first time on Saturday, I signed up to work with him and the coalition he formed to end racism in Madison.
Now, less than an hour after the meeting ended, some guys on probation steal a pizza delivery vehicle, flee police and crash into another uninvolved vehicle. ( ) I have difficulty seeing how the bad choices of these men are a function of our city.


The facts speak to a deeply systemic problem in this entire state. Leading the nation in incarcerations of black men and disparity in academic achievement between white and black students all Wisconsinites should be moved to action. The ladder reaches only as high as the bottom step. And the only people who benefit from a divided populace are those in power, liberal and conservative alike. Quit shooting yourself in the foot Johnny and Smoke. Join our group of concerned parents, teachers, church-goers and non-church-goers. You've got more to gain by working with us than by parroting the destructive words of your Masters.


Smokescreen, your comments live up to your name . . . where are your mirrors?

[haiku of a sort]

Sour Grapes:
Not liking new thoughts
One's taste may favor one's bile
Bad wine in old skin


A city cannot be at fault. The 'city' means white people btw. The perennial bogeyman. Parents however....not mentioned in the story. How about a little Justified Anger at Shitty Parents? Why does beautiful Madison have to be dragged through the mud because certain groups here have underperformed academically and embraced a culture of thuggery?


If you had been at the meeting or read any of the previous articles, you would know that personal responsibility (such as parenting) has been mentioned and is not being discounted. That said, when there are such stark disparities, it's hard to ignore that there is more to the story. I'm sorry to tell you that Madison IS COVERED in mud! There are just having a much harder time at covering it up these days.

Johnny Blood
Johnny Blood

How is it even possible for Madison to have racial problems? Isn't it one of the most liberal cities in America? I thought liberalism solved everything.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it clean. Exchange ideas and opinions on posted articles. Don't promote products or services, impersonate other site users, register multiple accounts, threaten or harass others, post vulgar, abusive, obscene or sexually oriented language. Don't post content that defames or degrades anyone. Don't repost copyrighted material; link to it. In other words, stick to the topic and play nice. Report abuses by clicking the button. Users who break the rules will be banned from commenting. We no longer issue warnings. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.