By Hywania Thompson | Photographed by Kaia Calhoun
“I didn’t like the way the print media handled black people. Most of the stories are crime and athletics.” Changing this portrayal was Milele Chikasa Anana’s inspiration for starting UMOJA Magazine in 1990. UMOJA shares positive stories of what’s happening in the local African-American community. “I knew there were scholarship efforts, there was civic involvement and there were people trying to help people through grassroots organizations,” says Anana. The cover of each edition featured work by black artists.
After nearly 30 years at the helm, Anana, 85, retired as UMOJA’s publisher in November and sold the magazine to the Urban League of Greater Madison. The Urban League selected veteran journalist Yvette Craig as UMOJA’s publisher. Craig’s first edition published in February.
Craig is a Milwaukee native who worked as a copy kid at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and later as a freelance writer for the Milwaukee Courier. She also worked at papers in Connecticut, New Jersey, Southern Illinois and Texas before moving back to Milwaukee to be near family.
Craig says she’s blessed to continue Anana’s legacy at UMOJA. “UMOJA will continue featuring positive news about the black community, while featuring eye-catching art on the cover,” she says. “UMOJA is a local jewel that must continue to shine.”
Anana recently reflected on the evolution of UMOJA, which began as a newsletter. “My thought was to get something out there in print that showed us as holistic people,” Anana says. Initially, she didn’t see it becoming a magazine, but after a few newsletters, her plans changed. She says readers helped make it a magazine, as did a publisher at the Wisconsin State Journal who gave her advice. Anana found a way to merge writing and art, working with local artists, as well as artists across the country and the world.
Anana says she revolutionized the way black people are presented in the media. “So often we look at ourselves as negative, a black hole, not aspiring to anything,” she says. “I think UMOJA has shown that what we do, carefully thought out, has purpose and community impact. I’ve taken the lemon of dis- crimination and made lemonade.”
Craig’s vision for UMOJA is to grow the magazine’s reach by including news from around Wisconsin and the nation, while keeping the secret sauce that makes Madison’s African-American community unique. UMOJA will still have “everything Ms. Milele worked tirelessly building for nearly 30 years,” Craig says. The magazine’s logo will receive a facelift and the layout will have a crisp design.
Anana may be retired as UMOJA’s publisher, but she’s not slowing down. Last year she received a humanitarian service award from Downtown Madison Rotary. The award came with a $2,500 grant for Anana to give to an organization of her choice. She chose the Goodman Community Center, which will work with the Madison Community Foundation to establish a scholarship in Anana’s name for a “future scholar” to go to college. Anana also is working on a Kwanzaa book with local artist Jerry Butler, due out later this year.
Anana says the legacy she leaves is having black people portrayed more positively. “I think it will catch hold, that the other papers will see the good we do…that’s all I can hope for.”