When it was time to break for lunch at the 4th Annual Black Women’s Leadership Conference held May 2 and 3 at UW-Madison’s Discover Building, Sabrina Madison, founder of The Progress Center for Black Women said she saw a few people sitting by themselves.
“Uh, no, we don’t do that here! You got to get at one of these tables with somebody else,” she recalls telling the few women eating alone. “This is a space where you are with someone else and finding your tribe. I know you might be alone at work, at school or with family, but find some women up in here because y’all need each other.”
From swag surfin’ to inspirational workshops, the annual conference is aimed at connecting Black women entrepreneurs, professionals, students and youth for masterclasses, panels and fellowship. Black-owned business vendors lined the blooming trees in the Discovery Building lobby. H.F. Deluca Forum became filled with a mosaic of Black women who all listened, laughed and learned during the two-day leadership experience.
This year’s conference focused on showcasing Black women professionals as content experts in all the presentations offered, with a special emphasis on mental health and wellness. The masterclasses ranged from a “ask the experts” session with Milwaukee licensed therapist Lakiesha Russell to “Career Glow-Up” sessions with image coach and stylist Johanna Duckworth.
“I want to make sure that my work increases this love you have for yourself, this love you have for family, for your job. Just increase your access to love – you loving you,” said Madison, who intentionally adheres to a “love ethic,” when organizing for and engaging with the community.
“I just want to extend love to other folks,” she said.
“To be in a space with so many beautiful black, dope, intelligent women, it’s so refreshing and it gives me hope,” said Lakeisha Russell, founder of The Evolving Chair counseling and consulting agency, adding that this was her first time attending this kind of conference in Wisconsin.
A major theme of Russell’s master classes included discussing healthy relationships and mental wellness. Titled “From the Inside Out,” the session was intended for 13- to 25-year-olds.
“We talked a lot about our own selves so that was really nice to be able to know that no matter what we are gonna have to love ourselves before we can love anybody else,” said Girls, Inc. member Olivia, 14.
“If we aren’t well, what we do and what we’re connected to won’t be well,” Russell said. “Especially now in the day in age where everybody wants to be an entrepreneur, be their own boss, but if you aren’t emotionally well, your business will run how you are. So you need to take care of your mental health.
The annual Black Women’s Leadership conference continues to with over 300 people in attendance over the course of the two days. “The first year the capacity was supposed to be 99, we had about 125 people. So we’ve grown, we’ve added people over the years to get to this,” Madison said.
To wrap up the conference Madison gave a six-month progress report on the Progress Center, including updates on the 5th Annual Black Women’s Leadership Conference and her plans to publish a book titled “This is Progress.” Madison also spoke of plans to release a documentary that highlights the Center and its work.
A number of women, including Madison School Board member Ali Muldrow, Madison Common Council President Shiva Bidar, Perfect Imperfections Founder Jasmine Banks and Corinda Rainey-Moore of Kids Forward, shared memories of Madison’s “love ethic” and witnessing her vision develop into what it is today.
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway spoke during the events conclusion and shared that her first impression of Madison was, “here is a woman who knows how to get s**t done.”