“WABM is a space that allows black men to become better black men.” This is a statement from Wisconsin Association of Black Men (WABM) president Kenneth Jackson, and with an institution as white as UW-Madison, this holds much significance. According to the Office of Registrar Enrollment Report, black men make up about .012% of the population on campus, so it is obvious why a space like this is important for those students in particular.
I attended one of the meetings to get a look at what a typical WABM meeting looks like, and the topic of this particular meeting was stress. Led by juniors Kenneth and Elisha Ikhumen, secretary of WABM, the members proceeded to identify and list stress relievers. The gentlemen came up with a solid list, consisting of working out, sex/masturbation, proactivity, meditation, the Bible, and talking; they also shared what they felt were triggers of stress.
Despite this meeting having a small turn out, that did not stop the members from maintaining a positive and inclusive ambience. The vibe was spread out, chill, and laid-back, the men had their space and the communal feel was very apparent. Although I was the only woman at the meeting, WABM is not exclusive to just the men on campus, students of all gender identities are welcome to attend.
WABM meetings can range from being discussion to activity based. Kenneth shares,
“The agenda just ranges from whether it’s a workshop, whether we have somebody coming in to talk about, like, financial literacy, or whether it’s gonna more of, like, sit down dialogue like it was today…we’re just going through a topic…”
As music filled the air, all members contributed to making a “WABM Stress Playlist”, including songs from Kendrick Lamar’s “Untitled 06” to Kanye West’s “Gorgeous”. The environment remained mellow and members were enjoying their time. I spoke to Verona native, Solomon Roller, to get a sense of a member’s perspective of WABM:
“At a university where spaces are provided but not specifically for people of color all the time, I feel like..being able to come together as black men and being able to talk through things that are not talked about, things that are kinda glossed over a lot of times speaks a lot to our experience.”
Members continued going over stress by listing what they may need when stressed and what one should offer someone when stressed. The meeting closed out with “props and praise.” “It’s sort of a circle we made, we do a beat, we clap and everyone goes around and says something that they’re thankful for,” Kenneth explains.
From what I’ve seen and experienced, Wisconsin Association of Black Men definitely has the power to make UW-Madison a smaller campus for a marginalized group. Addressing topics such as mental health and financial literacy can make a necessary impact on our black male students. UW-Madison is not a very welcoming university for black students in general, socially and culturally– the city of Madison itself has very little to offer black students as well. So, an org like this, offering the community what it does, is crucial for our students. Take it from fellow member Solomon: “I think that in the near future [the organization] is gonna have a big impact on the university, not just the black community but the university in general, which is something we’re working on doing right now.”