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Alexander Gee, community catalyst and transformative educator, to receive UW honorary degree

March 21, 2024 By Doug Erickson
A portrait photo of Alexander Gee

Reverend Dr. Alexander Gee Jr., an innovative community servant and transformational educator who is nationally recognized for his advocacy on behalf of the Black community, will receive an honorary degree from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The University of Wisconsin–Madison will award an honorary doctorate degree this May to Reverend Dr. Alexander Gee Jr., an innovative community servant and transformational educator who is nationally recognized for his advocacy on behalf of the Black community and for his leadership in addressing the root causes of racial disparities.

A UW–Madison alumnus, Gee launched the Justified Anger Coalition in 2013, a solutions-oriented movement that mobilized the Madison community to address long-standing racial inequalities. The coalition has educated thousands of people about African American history through one of its hallmark initiatives, a series of highly successful community classes called “Black History for a New Day,” taught in tandem with UW–Madison professors.

Gee also is the founder of the Madison-based Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development and senior pastor of Madison’s multiracial, non-denominational Fountain of Life Covenant Church.

The culmination of Gee’s 35 years of work is the Center for Black Excellence and Culture, which is expected to break ground this summer on Madison’s south side. Led, designed and inspired by over 700 Black people, the center is intended as a cultural home for Wisconsin’s Black community while bringing together people from all backgrounds to celebrate and experience Black history and culture.

“Dr. Gee’s commitment to education, public service and community stewardship is the very essence of the Wisconsin Idea,” says Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin. “Few others have contributed more to the public good or given themselves more fully to the work of bettering society than Dr. Gee. He richly deserves this honor for his decades of impactful community leadership and passionate advocacy.”

The much anticipated $31M Center for Black Excellence and Culture will, according to Gee, “significantly increase Black quality of life and wellness through Black leadership and Black innovation; Black performing arts and visuals; Black history and storytelling; and Black health and wellness research. The center will become a national model for utilizing the power of social and cultural connection to transform equity and Black quality of life in American communities.” Gee is founder and CEO.

In selecting recipients, the UW–Madison Committee on Honorary Degrees considers sustained and uncommonly meritorious activity exhibiting values that are esteemed by a great university. Preference is given to people connected in some significant way to the state or university, though that is not a prerequisite.

Gee earned a bachelor’s degree from UW–Madison in Afro-American studies in 1985 and worked for several years at UW–Madison as an admissions officer and minority recruiter, minority affairs director for the School of Pharmacy, and as a special assistant for minority community relations for Chancellor David Ward. He studied at Fuller Seminary and holds a doctorate from Bakke Graduate University.

Gee was jointly nominated for the honorary degree by the Department of African American Studies and the Morgridge Center for Public Service.

“Dr. Gee is a graduate of the Department of African American Studies, and he really took to heart the core of the department, which is that we were founded in protest and progress,” says Professor Christy Clark-Pujara, department chair and a participating instructor in the “Black History for a New Day” project. “We are not just an academic unit. We are committed to change outside of the university and in our communities and in our families. That is exactly what Dr. Gee did and what he continues to do.”

The Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development has become a national model for community-based, nonprofit organizations. Its core areas include cultivating community leaders, empowering youth, and helping formerly incarcerated men successfully reenter society. Through the Justified Anger Coalition, Gee and his team drafted “Our Madison Plan,” a call to action presented at a town hall meeting in 2015 to more than 700 people.

Under Gee’s leadership, more than 5,000 people have now completed the “Black History for a New Day” course, and seven cohorts of emerging Black leaders have been trained. His team’s efforts to address racism as a social determinant of health for the Black community resulted in a $1M grant to continue this important work of strengthening Black people and Black communities.

“Dr. Gee is using his talents to influence and improve people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom,” says Travis Wright, faculty director of the Morgridge Center for Public Service and an associate professor of counseling psychology. “His work has inspired countless individuals to be better and do better, opening their eyes and hearts to the sting of racism, inequity and injustice.”

The thousands of people who have taken the “Black History for a New Day” course only hints at the initiative’s success and impact, says Stephen Kantrowitz, Plaenert-Bascom Professor of History, who worked with Gee to develop the course. The people who have taken the course have returned to their businesses, churches, organizations and communities to further the work.

“The course has become an institution in Madison — a place to which people turn when they want to deepen their understanding of the history of structural racism, Black resistance and self-determination, and the work of coalition-making,” Kantrowitz says. “We are all in Dr. Gee’s debt for this innovative, inspired and effective work.”

Internationally, Gee has been closely involved with Zimele USA, a nonprofit organization working to confront poverty in South Africa and empower South African women in rural communities. He has traveled to KwaZula-Natal, South Africa, multiple times to assist the organization in its work.

In 2018, Gee launched the award-winning podcast “Black Like Me.”  Now in its ninth season, the podcast has recorded interviews with more than 180 people from a wide range of backgrounds and careers, including teachers, corporate CEOs, local and national grassroots organizers, and activists, artists and writers. Gee describes it as “a podcast that invites you to experience the world through the perspective of one Black man, one conversation, one story, or even one rant at a time.” The podcast has attracted listeners in all 50 states and in 150 countries on over 70 podcast platforms.

“Dr. Gee’s long and sustained career in community service has drawn acclaim not just locally and in Wisconsin but nationally, and it has had tremendous implications around the world,” says Professor Sandra Adell, director of graduate studies for the Department of African American Studies. “His work is evidence of the highest dedication to the Wisconsin Idea, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and the development of a new generation of community-engaged scholars, researchers and educators.”

Gee will be conferred the honorary doctorate of humane letters at the spring commencement ceremony for all doctoral, MFA and medical professional degree candidates at 5:30 p.m. Friday, May 10, at the Kohl Center. The commencement ceremony for all bachelor’s, law and master’s degree candidates follows at noon the next day, Saturday, May 11, at Camp Randall Stadium. For more information and updates, please visit the UW–Madison commencement website.

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