The south side will be the place to be on Tuesday, Aug. 7. Specifically, Penn Park, as Madison joins other communities across the country to celebrate the 29th annual National Night Out.
Club Today Not Tomorrow (Club TNT) is one of the lead organizers this year of the celebration along with the Bram's Addition Neighborhood Association (BANA), Penn Park Partners, and the Madison Police District (MPD).
“Last year’s event was one of the biggest that we ever had and this year we are pushing to make it even bigger,” says Jeanne Erickson, director of public relations for Club TNT and one of the organizers of the event. “We’ve changed the evening format quite a bit and I think that will help us successfully bring more people out.”
The event, held annually since 1984 and sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch in the United States and Canada, is meant to increase awareness about police programs in communities, such as drug prevention, town watch/neighborhood eatch, and other anti-crime efforts. Initially communities held lights-on vigils. Now, many communities hold block parties, festivals, and other events to help bring neighbors together.
“Penn Park is notorious in its reputation for not being a safe, family-friendly place, but over the last few years the Penn Park Peace Partners, the Penn Park Association, and the police department have been really trying very hard to bring in activities that will show that this is a fun place to be, a safe place to be, and it is family friendly,” Erickson says.
Madison’s south side is one of the oldest areas of the city and the south side was developed to support ethnically diverse (and predominantly immigrant) mix of working and middle-class families whose members walked to work on the Isthmus. This diversity continues today, demonstrated by its ethnically diverse population, numerous multicultural businesses, and high concentration of Madison’s Spanish-speaking population. In fact, the south side zip code  is the most diverse zip code in the entire state.
Speakers for the National Night Out (NNO) event will include Charles Tubbs, the new director of Dane County Emergency Management; representatives from the Madison Police Department’s South District; youth representatives from the Boys and Girls Club who will give a history of NNO. There will also be words from leaders of local community groups like the Urban League of Greater Madison’s Promise Zone Program Coordinator Hedi Rudd; Boys and Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson and COO John Suggs; Will Green, the director of Mentoring Positives; and Veterans for Peace’s Will Williams.
The south side of Madison is home to many of the city’s community-based organizations where a ton of exciting things are happening including Centro Hispano of Dane County, Boys and Girls Club, Centro Guadalupe, the Urban League of Greater Madison, Madison area Urban Ministry, and more. In the near future, Access Community Health Center is being built there along with the South Madison Center for Culture & Community (SMCCC). In other words, there are a lot of positive things going on the south side right now.
“There’s so much that is already being done to take back the neighborhood,” Erickson says. “Without all of these positives, the negatives will really take over. There are some pockets on the south side that really have a lot of work to be done. The good thing is that people have recognized that the south side of Madison is a strong and vibrant part of Madison and that the people over there should definitely get the attention and resources that they need.”
There will be resource tables with all kinds of valuable information. Members of the South Side Promise Zone will be there along with many of the South Side Raiders football team whose first practice is coinciding with the event.
Performers at the event will include Owls, Foxes and Sebastian (formerly known as Few and Far Between); End Time International Ministry Dancers; Spoken Word by Atira Banks; YGB (Young
Gifted and Black); Boys and Girls Club Creative and Performing Arts performers; the Black Star Drum Line); Centro Hispano Youth; the Mt. Zion Youth Gospel Choir; and a Spaniish Dance troupe. Rapper Rob DZ will also perform and there will be a special closing concert with one of MPD’s finest – Anthony Ward
“It will be a great opportunity for people to learn what the south side community is all about. There will be great food and great fellowship,” Erickson says. “It’s an opportunity to meet the police officers and community members who are not only working to improve the south side, but the Madison community as a whole. No matter where you live, coming to celebrate taking back a neighborhood helps to make the city stronger.”
This year, the march through the neighborhood will take place a 5:45 p.m. rather than at dusk. “We’re encouraging neighborhood groups and agencies and businesses to come out and gather and make posters,” Erickson says. “We have such an issues with drugs and gangs and related violence ... why keep that issue in the darkness of the Candlelight March? We want people to really see and hear what we’re marching about.”
There will still be a Candelight Vigil to remember those impacted by neighborhood violence. The community is invited to give names of individuals impacted by drugs, gangs and/or violence to be read aloud at the vigil.
Erickson hopes that 2012 South Side Night Out will become something that lasts for much more than one night.
“It’s not just a single group that is doing this…. It really is many community groups that are active throughout the year within a particular area,” Erickson says. “People will get a sense that other people see their neighborhood as important and so they’ll have an opportunity to reach out and feel more comfortable in becoming involved themselves. Hopefully, it will create something that impacts throughout the year.”