Now in its second year, Black Umbrella expands, keeps activism at its core

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Black Umbrella. Photo supplied.

Black Umbrella Global, a local organization centered around activism, is geared toward supporting the Black community throughout the Madison area. Amid the 2020 Black Lives Matter protest, Black Umbrella surfaced as a resource and network for community members to be supported in various areas of the city. Black Umbrella acts as a safety net for Black people throughout the Madison area who seek out equality and liberation.

Rodney Alexander and Shy Smith, two of the founding members of Black Umbrella, spoke to the organization's mission and goals for the Madison community in addition to the progress the organization has currently made in the community since the summer of 2020. While their transitional housing project, community outreach, and distribution of food and educational resources are major aspects of Black Umbrella's mission, activism is the core value of the organization.

"We are what people consider radical because we get straight to the point. A lot of organizations tend to play it by the book, but we believe the book is part of the problem. We focus on speaking out consistently, along with a hands-on approach to all the issues we speak of." Alexander said.

The core values of Black Umbrella surround justice and liberation for Black communities around the world. While Black Umbrella is currently exclusive to Madison, they strive to expand their programs and continue to provide resources for the community by acting as an aid for the community through protests against police brutality and the mistreatment of Black people throughout the United States. Self-sufficiency, equity, consistency, identity, and empathy are prominent in the shaping and motive of Black Umbrella in their mission to serve the community.

"We value people's lives, their stories, and their struggle," Smith said. "We are here for you in any way and we will do what we have to do, so you feel more comfortable in the Madison environment."

The Black Umbrella Global Transitional Housing project provides safe and stable options for housing while residents are in pursuit of self-sustainability and integrating back into society. The homeless population in Madison has benefited the most from this program as the organization has also incorporated personal and professional development programs with the project. Black Umbrella's community outreach promotes community building in hopes that neighbors network and create connections in support of the overall progression of the wider neighborhoods throughout the Madison area. This includes the hosting of events geared toward uplifting the uniting Black people throughout Madison. Seven Shades of Black, an annual week-long cultural event, was a large event held in the community with different themes each day celebrating aspects of Black culture. The second annual Seven Shades of Black event is set for June 17 to 20, in celebration of Juneteenth and the further progression of Black people.

"Our organization combats what the system consistently fails at," Alexander said. "We refuse to accept elected officials that don't take care of the people, that creates tension when we call them out because it is a bad look for them."

Education is a large aspect of Black Umbrella's community outreach; during their protest and events they educate the community about legal rights, policies, self-help resources, and more.

"The city of Madison doesn't work further with us after we give them advice. They are here to act like they want to address the community's needs, but do things their way." Smith said. "I always try to see if there is a solution we can come to now, because it's going to take a long time to dismantle this system, it's always going to be a work in progress."

Black Umbrella Global's goal is to collaborate and partner with other community organizations, while facilitating progressive conversations throughout community members and elected officials. The creation of housing options for low-income community members in Dane county seeks to decrease rates of homelessness in the city. As Black Umbrella builds a safer and more connected community, they seek to eliminate the need for police presence and showcase more Black businesses to close the racial wealth gap.

"The goal is not only social justice but to be able to educate the community of what that is," Alexander said. "Social justice, peace, liberation; those things sound so simple but obviously they are things we don't have. When we get to the point where we don't have to question whether a person didn't get the job because they are Black, Indian, or Puerto Rican or when a person gets pulled over for an actual traffic violation versus what race they are we'll get to where we've been looking for."

Social justice, peace, and liberation are all factors that contribute to Black Umbrella's building of community. Through the distribution of community resources like free clothing, hygienic items, and feeding over 1000 people through weekly meals Black Umbrella provides essential supplies to the community by delivery or at community events. The River food pantry, Badger Rock neighborhood center, Tuttos Pasta, Coopers Tavern, and other outlets aid Black Umbrella in their mission to feed the community.

"When we get out here, you are not talking to somebody who just wants to help you because they feel like they have to or that's what's trending right now, it's because we actually can relate to it a

nd we're helping one another." Alexander said.

To support or get involved with Black Umbrella Global, visit their website at https://blackumbrella.org/

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