There is only one Ms. Milele Chikasa Anana. Beloved in her local community, she bears a musical Swahili name that has become synonymous in the Madison area with UMOJA magazine. She is owner and publisher of UMOJA, which reached a milestone this year when it turned twenty-five. The magazine affirms and informs Black people all over Wisconsin, particularly in the Madison-Janesville-Beloit corridor. As a respected elder, she is referred to as Ms. Milele, and she reigns as the undisputed queen mother of the Black people who know and love her. For twenty-five years in UMOJA, she has published positive news with an art attitude by and about her community. UMOJA magazine focuses on achievements, role models, family life, creativity, community events, worship and Black-owned businesses, and demonstrates in every issue how Black people enhance the quality of life in Wisconsin.
The name of her magazine, UMOJA, is also from the Swahili language and means “unity.” Swahili is viewed as the connector language among all of the thousands of languages spoken on the African continent. It is a fitting African word to express the single most important goal of this woman: to unify the entire Black community by publishing what is good news about a unique race of people whose accomplishments are largely unknown. Ms. Milele Chikasa Anana and UMOJA magazine both stand for excellence and evoke a sense of pride.
Ms. Milele, born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, recently celebrated her eighty-first birthday in Madison by fundraising for Black organizations. This is just another way she gives back to her community. She says she has lived long and is wise enough to know that the growing Black community here needs a concrete way to make connections between economic classes, to build a bridge between generations and to erect a strong barrier against all of the negative news about Black people in local media outlets. UMOJA magazine helps to do this.
Ms. Milele continues her life as a strong, strident civil rights activist who worked for justice in every city she and her family lived in, including Madison. She has held many official posts: as the City of Madison’s affirmative action officer, interim director of the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission and the first African American to serve on a Wisconsin school board. She was quick to assess the racial climate in Madison for Black people and felt compelled to work on their behalf in a new way through the field of communications. Ms. Milele recalls, “I was just unhappy about the dominance of negative images about Black people and the tremendous lack of recognition that we do good things.” The early editions were printed on yellow paper, much like a newsletter; she wanted to produce a magazine that unapologetically celebrated personal and professional milestones and achievement, while also being aesthetically beautiful. She succeeded with UMOJA magazine, which has transformed, over the past two decades, into the magazine that she dreamed it could be.
UMOJA magazine celebrates twenty-five years of publication, from 1990 to 2015, featuring 275 stunning covers withoriginal artwork by local, national and international African American artists. Her purpose in securing the works of Black artists for her UMOJA covers was twofold: to have beautiful artwork introducing her magazine each month, and to promote and encourage Black artists and their work. These artists help her tell the story of the Black experience through images that matter and are uniquely personal to their collective experience. Ms. Milele hopes to raise awareness about the fine artwork of these artists who illustrate the complex stories of struggle and victory covered in each article in UMOJA. For twenty-five years, no location was too difficult to reach, and no event was too small for her staff of community members and volunteers to cover in the pages of UMOJA.
Her hard work has not gone unnoticed. Years ago, the late Dr. Nellie McKay, lauded professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, declared Ms. Milele to be more than a historian and archivist, but a griot, “preserving African American memories in the city of Madison.” On May 13, 2015, the City of Madison passed a resolution commending the achievements and community contributions of UMOJA publisher and editor Milele Chikasa Anana, and honoring UMOJA magazine on the celebration of its twenty-fifth anniversary.
Source: Madison Magazine