In 2016, Sabrina “Heymiss Progress” Madison quit her job and became an entrepreneur with a single goal.
“When I left my job at Madison College I said, 'I’m quitting to go work for black women,'” she said.
She’s done that as a motivational speaker and social entrepreneur, creating the annual Black Women’s Leadership Conference, Black Excellence Youth Conference and Black Business Expos. Now she’s taking it a step further.
Madison will announce Wednesday the creation of The Progress Center for Black Women, an organization that will put her current projects under one roof and allow her to expand her efforts to empower African-American women and families.
It’s the fulfillment of what she has working for since she started entrepreneurial work, she said, and it’s ensuring that her efforts for African-American women in the city outlive her.
“This is about providing a more concrete and long-lasting way to serve black women,” she said. “It shouldn’t need me to survive.”
That goal is to eventually hire someone else to head up the center.
“I think I’ll always be entrepreneurial,” she said. “I want to create and build something, and create and build something else.”
The center will allow her to start several new efforts, including an entrepreneur collaborative space, a leadership accelerator and a small-dollar lending program.
The purpose of blkCOLLAB, as the name suggests, is to provide a collaborative space for black entrepreneurs. As Madison has worked with entrepreneurs, she’s noticed they often need help in skills like web design or social media presence. The collaborative will regularly bring in experts to teach these skills.
AMBITION, a leadership accelerator for African-American women, will provide leadership training that gets at “the heart of what black women need,” she said. It will facilitate job shadowing and help women form comprehensive plans for their careers. Madison wants to give African-American women confidence at work, whether that empowers them to scale the corporate ladder or negotiate a better salary.
The small-dollar lending program will work in partnership with a credit union. She’s aiming to raise $50,000 for the project.
Madison often receives messages from case workers and community members seeking funds, often just a few hundred dollars. Recently, a mother needed just $200 to get her washer and dryer fixed, but because of bad credit, couldn’t get a small loan herself. Madison was able to connect the woman with someone who was willing to cover the cost out-of-pocket.
This happens often, but Madison said she ends up sending people in different directions for resources depending on the problem. She wants to set up a designated space where people can go for small loans, in a way that maintains their dignity and prevents them from utilizing payday loans with prohibitively high interest rates.
She had to use those loans in her first few years in Madison.
“It can be a degrading experience,” she said. “The freaking interest rate is like 400 percent.”
When women seek financial help, they often feel embarrassed that they even have to ask, Madison said.
“They write me like a three page novel: ‘I don't want you to think I’m not responsible, I’m working, I have two kids,’” she said. “I get it. Been there, done that.”
The program will remove the guilt and shame from the process, Madison said. Plus, because of its partnership with a credit union, it can help improve their credit.
Starting next June, Madison will put on events called "Summer Black Business Kickbacks" all over the city. They’ll feature a few hours of food and store pop-ups from black entrepreneurs with music, kids activities and tables for card games.
In establishing the center, she’s moving her operations to the Urban League of Greater Madison at 2222 S. Park St. She’ll partner with the organization on economic development initiatives and its annual Unity Picnic. Eventually, she hopes a capital campaign could give her a space of her own, but until then, she’s glad to be at the Urban League.
“I love the south side,” she said, and the partnership means she won’t have to constantly look for spaces to host her events.
To make all of the programming at the center a reality, she’ll need $150,000 of funding. Rather than spend a year writing grants that she may or may not get, she decided to ask the community to foot the bill.
It’s the perfect opportunity for citizens who who give lip service to evil of racial disparities in Dane County to take action, she said.
“People will put up yard signs for Black Lives Matter, and when a black person drives by they still lock their doors,” she said. “(To) truly support black folks leading, here's an opportunity to do that.”
The money will pay for her role as director, plus two to four interns — she hopes to employ single mothers. It will also pay for the lending program, programming, materials, space and conference and expo expenses.
Because she wants to start AMBITION and blkCOLLAB during Black History Month, she’s aiming to raise funds by the end of February. She has already secured about $20,000.
The center will be housed under the fiscal sponsorship of the Center for Community Stewardship, so donations for Madison’s center can be made through the Center for Community Stewardship at centerforblackwomen.org.
“It’s really asking the community, hey, let’s make an investment,” she said.