Sabrina Madison: Putting Black Women’s Needs on the Madison Map

By Hywania Thompson

She came to Madison to give her son a chance at a better life. Now Sabrina Madison is helping create opportunities for others through her many projects— most recently by launching The Progress Center for Black Women.

Madison—also known as HeyMiss Progress, a moniker coined by her father—is becoming a household name in our area as a champion for black women.

In 2007, she moved here from Milwaukee with her young son, hoping to give him the opportunities that other men in her family, some of whom had been in and out of jail, hadn’t had. Her son is now in his 20s and working as an application developer at a local insurance company.

While the city had great things to offer, Madison says she soon found out that the city of Madison can be a tough place for people of color. “We moved here for a better life. It’s only when we got here and started living here that we were facing some of the disparities, the things that you’re not going to learn coming here to stay in the spa and get massages, walk around and shop,” she says.

At the same time, she says Madison is a place where you can test ideas and have a chance to create and do things. In March 2016, Madison—a BRAVA Woman to Watch that year— left her job at Madison College to “go work for black women.” She created the Black Women’s Leadership Conference first. “I got booked for a pretty big organization here and I walked in and I was the diversity again and I was annoyed. I sat down and asked myself what would a conference look like aimed at black women,” Madison says.

The success of that conference and requests from the community have prompted Madison to work toward a leadership conference for black men as well, which she hopes to debut this summer.

Last year, Madison announced The Progress Center for Black Women, which will bring all of her efforts under one umbrella and be housed at the Urban League of Greater Madison. Madison says data on the gender wage gap facing black women, other data on poverty in Wisconsin, and the calls and messages she gets multiple times a week from women seeking help, gave her the push for the center. “I don’t want to be the end all to anybody but if I have been an outlet for you to at least tap into resources and get connected, if I can connect you to at least therapy and verify that you’re getting help, if I can go to the school district with you to fight for your daughter who’s being bullied—then I need to continue to be a resource,” she says.

The Progress Center for Black Women will house many of Madison’s projects:

Black Women’s Leadership Conference:

This conference brings together women in all positions—nurses, CEOs, business owners—for three days of workshops, networking and locally and nationally recognized speakers. A leadership award is also presented at the conference.

Black Business Expo:

The expo— usually held in July and November— brings together black entrepreneurs to sell products like jewelry, art, clothes and food.

AMBITION:

A black women’s leadership accelerator in which women will go through a nine- to 11-week accelerator to tackle needs specific to them, such as dealing with micro-aggression in the workplace.

blkCOLLAB:

A space for entrepreneurs to work side-by-side with leaders and professionals in marketing, web development and social media. The space is meant to build entrepreneurs’ technical skills.

Small Dollar Lending Program for Women of Color:

Madison says she is most proud of and excited to create this program, which will offer loans of up to $1,000 to women facing emergency situations—money they can access without the red tape. The goal is to partner with a credit union on the program.

The Urban League’s partnership with The Progress Center for Black Women will certainly help the league empower people of color, Urban League President and CEO Ruben Anthony says. Madison’s work with black women entrepreneurs is an important component.

“She has experience in helping women who have small businesses but big dreams,” Anthony says. “We need a space in this community where women can be safe and confident about coming in and talking about ideas for their businesses.”

Madison has other projects off the starting blocks or in the planning stages as well.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, she held the first Black Excellence Youth Conference, where Madison high school students gathered to hear from speakers and participate in panel discussions. She’s assembling a planning team for next year, and is hoping to bring young people on board in conference leadership roles.

Over the last several months, Madison has spearheaded fundraising for the Progress Center. She’s close to her $150,000 goal. And her plans for the center don’t stop there. Madison wants to raise $2 million in five years to buy a building to house the center, with an office, community rooms, a kitchen and spaces that allow for special programming like small plays.

Anthony says, “My hope is that she is able to expand her work so that she can have a flood of women coming through the doors and really feeling empowered.”

For more information, visit centerforblackwomen.com