Community members came out in force to witness a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the new South Madison Center for Culture & Community (SMCCC) Friday, June 22 on Madison’s south side.
The Center is a joint venture of The Nehemiah Corporation and Fountain of Life Church. SMCCC will serve the neighborhood as a community, educational, and cultural center.
“This is a momentous occasion. I’m so glad to have everybody here today. I’ve been a member of Fountain of Life for over 20 years,” said Mistress of Ceremonies Cynthia Woodland. “It’s really exciting to see this happening. Thank you all for coming out.”
The SMCCC will be a multicultural and multigenerational gathering place on Madison’s south side that promotes and inspires cultural and creative community exchange among Madison’s diverse community. The SMCCC will have six program “Centers” — Culture, Education, Social Services & Empowerment, Community, Justice, and Economic Development.
“My mom [Verline Gee-Fleming] moved us to Madison in 1970 as a single mom going through divorce thinking she wanted a better life for her children,” said Rev. Alex Gee, pastor of Fountain of Life Church. “So, I know her heart must really be filled with pride as she is looking at what is happening based upon the steps of faith she made.”
Gee said that his mom started a church 35 years ago with just eight people in her living room at 1708 Fisher Street on Madison’s south side. “For 35 years, we have been part of the community with a vision that some day something like this would happen,” he said. “I just want you all to know that you are part of something that is really important.”
Fountain of Life will convert 4,000 square feet of its current building, including its sanctuary, into a community center for one of Wisconsin’s most racially and culturally diverse neighborhoods.
“I’ve been told that this zip code area — 53713 — is the most diverse zip code in the entire state of Wisconsin,” Gee said. “So, we don’t want Madison to be known for being segregated from each other. We want to be the home where the melting pot is…. Where people can come in from various cultures and come together.”
The Fountain of Life building will undergo a $300,000 renovation to become the South Madison Center for Culture and Community. Nehemiah, the church’s umbrella nonprofit organization, will manage the space, providing a location for courses, training, plays, art shows, film festivals, concerts and forums.
“Our vision is not to build up our own egos and our own kingdom,” said Gee. “We’re here to really be community partners. That’s why it means so much to me that we have folks here today who are pastors, elected officials, and community leaders who will speak.”
Astra Iheukumere spoke on behalf of Mayor Paul Soglin and the City of Madison. “While the mayor is not able to attend tonight, the significance of this monumental occasion does not escape notice and is very much appreciated,” Iheukumere said. “We are thrilled that as Fountain of Life expands its footprint in South Madison, the programmatic impact on the city and the south side also expands. With this building, the capacity to serve the city’s residents in a multitude of ways expands and the stabilizing force in South Madison that FOL and Nehemiah always been continues. That is reason to celebrate.
“You, as part of the faith community here in Madison and as major stakeholders in the nonprofit community citywide, embody the grassroots activism and the neighborhood-based solution development that has become a distinguishing characteristic of the City of Madison,” she added.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi told the crowd that any community cannot thrive unless it has a thriving cultural center that it celebrates. “I cannot think of anybody who has been more impressive than Alex Gee — he’s been like the Energizer Bunny of service,” Parisi said. “We are fortunate to have you and you inspire so many people.”
Boys & Girls Club President Michael Johnson said that the SMCCC is still about $65,000 short of their fund-raising goals and he personally pledged $1,000 on the spot and encouraged others to do so, too. While the Fountain of Life Church is planning on converting its current vaulted-ceiling sanctuary into a community center, they are also funding construction of a new $1 million church adjacent to the community center that will house a 500-seat sanctuary and 10 new classrooms. Urban League of Greater Madison President Kaleem Caire said that he can’t wait to see the finished product.
“Rev. Gee came to West High School one time [when I was a kid] and he was the first person to tell me that I could go to college,” Caire said. “So, all the impact that you’ve had on me and my family and this community has been great. I’m so glad to be here today to witness this great event.”
Both the new church and community center are expected to open by February.
For more information, please visit www.southmadisonccc.org.