Community Designs Permanent Home For Progress Center For Black Women
Courtesy of The Progress Center for Black Women

The Progress Center for Black Women in Madison, Wisconsin, has welcomed people with open arms for close to a year now, but founder and director Sabrina “HeyMissProgress” Madison always knew the space would be temporary. 

With eyes set on higher heights, Madison is developing plans to transform the 800 square feet center into a 10,000 square feet oasis where serving Black women will be the chief objective.  

Madison and her work were previously featured in ESSENCE Woke 100 list in 2018. The award-winning entrepreneur has a long track record of collaborating with others to create new and innovative ways to connect with Black folks in Wisconsin. 

The new center will continue her vision of empowering Black women  “leaders, doers, and owners” and will feature a hefty list of targeted amenities and programming.  

Local Black architects Michael Ford and Lilliann Dolley of architectural firm SmithGroup came onto the project to lead a cypher that bridges design ideas with the concerns of community members. 

Mothers, entrepreneurs, activists, and even domestic violence intervention professionals were invited to discuss their ideas for the center. 

“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,” Alice Larrue told local newspaper The Capital Times.

The designs for the new and improved center are set to include a community kitchen, computer lab, small hair salon, performing arts space, and laundry room. 

Madison’s team is weighing two options: build the center from scratch or collaborate with a 40-unit affordable housing development. If the center chooses the second option, they will add new programming that will center homeownership. 

“We were very conscious in building and designing this space, and we want it to continue to feel like an extended living room,” Madison told ESSENCE. “I want people to still walk in and just have that vibe where it’s okay to kick off your shoes.” 

The center is a physical manifestation of Madison’s work as a community organizer. It offers community connections to resources, experiences, and programming that intentionally centers Black women and their families. 

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“I want Black women and Black families to feel ownership. When they walk in, it’s not like they need to ask us can they use something. They already feel like it belongs to them,” she said. 

Madison and the center both work from what author bell hooks calls a “love ethic.” According to the center’s website, hooks’ definition of a love “is a combination of six ingredients: care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust.”

“We strongly believe that embracing a love ethic is integral in doing the transformative work to empower Black women and restore families,” the site reads. 

Creating this space in Madison, Wisconsin, has not been an easy road travelled. “I would describe myself as a disruptor simply because even in this work I just, I’ve had to deal with so many folks even to this day where folks want to box me,” Madison said. 

In Wisconsin, three out of ten Black families live in poverty, which means the state has the second highest poverty rate in the country, according to a 2017 study on Wisconsin disparities.

Another recent study also found that high rates of chronic stress and economic insecurity in Dane County, where the center operates, are the driving forces causing disparities between Black and white mothers, according to a study conducted by the Foundation for Black Women Wellness, which is based in Wisconsin. 

The center will also memorialize Larrue’s daughter Aprina Paul who was murdered in 2013. Her remains were found, burned in a fire pit behind an Illinois home. Paul was just 18-years-old when she lost her life.

Madison said the center will honor Paul with artwork that highlights her life.  

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

Plans for the new and improved 10,000 square feet Progress Center for Black Women are still in development. In this next phase, Madison will be using her latest designs to secure potential investors and collaborators. 

“We’re still growing. We’re still leading. We’re still building. We’re still getting better,” Madison said. 

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