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Black women to design permanent home for Progress Center

The Capital Times

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Sabrina Madison knows most places in the city weren’t designed with black women in mind.

“Black folks, and especially black women, don’t already have places that belong to them in this community,” Madison said. “There are not too many spaces where they already fit in when they walk in the door.”

So when thinking about the design of the future permanent home for her Progress Center for Black Women, she made sure to bring black women to the table from the start.

Madison recently met with SmithGroup, an architectural, engineering and planning firm, to present her plans for the center, and she asked black women to come and weigh in. The participants said they felt “honored” to be invited.

“To me, Sabrina’s like our local celebrity,” said Ruby Clay, so when she was invited, “I was like, whoa, me?”

“I think it was one of the best meetings I’ve been to in my 39 years of living. To be sitting at a table full of leaders that look like myself — it was an amazing feeling,” said Alice Larrue, adding she hasn’t stopped talking about it since.

Madison is the founder of the Progress Center for Black Women. For now, the Progress Center is in an 800-square-foot office in Suite 211 at 5936 Seminole Centre Ct. in Fitchburg.

Madison has been in talks with the affordable-housing developer Movin’ Out about the possibility of building a permanent center as part of a project with 40 units of affordable housing.

When Madison’s friend Mike Ford, known as the Hip Hop Architect, joined SmithGroup a few weeks ago as an architectural associate, he told her: “Sabrina, this is the perfect moment to now have a team start to look at your ideas for expanding.”

“For an architectural firm to be with me as I’m learning and going along means a lot to me,” Madison said.

Ford proposed first trying to come up with design ideas quickly, taking just a couple of hours to “conceptualize a space.” Ford brought along his SmithGroup colleagues Lilliann Dolley, an architectural associate, and Kelly Hensler, a design architect.

“It’s the Progress Center for Black Women, and me and Sabrina have this long history of working together . . . (but) it’s time to introduce Sabrina to some women designers,” he said, especially since Dolley is one of the few black women in the field.

SmithGroup provided pictures of design ideas and had participants answer questions about what they want for the center.  Madison wants the permanent center to have a kitchen, computer lab and library. The wish list also calls for laundry equipment, a place for teenagers, a large common space and a small salon.

The center could potentially have several small spaces set aside for entrepreneurs, Madison said. Judy McNeal has brought her QB’s Magnetic Creations business to Madison’s business-expo events.

SmithGroup is now working on design suggestions that will serve as a “starting point for her to be able to communicate with potential funders.” SmithGroup will also make visual representations of the project, Ford said. Madison will start pulling together a capital campaign team, possibly by November.

McNeal said the design session was one of the few times she’s walked away from a meeting believing that the ideas discussed will become a reality.

“It’s going to be amazing,” Larrue said. “I can’t wait for this center to come.”

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