Category Archives: Rotary Club of Madison Guest Speaker

It’s All About Peace and Forgiveness

submitted by Mary Borland; photo by Mary Ellen O’Brien

IMG_1431Dr. Masood Akhtar received our club’s Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award at this week’s meeting. Along with this award, a $2,500 grant is presented by the Madison Rotary Foundation to an agency of the recipient’s choice. Dr. Akhtar has chosen United Against Hate to receive this grant.  After presentation of his award, he took the stage to share information about the state-wide non-partisan movement he started called “We Are Many-United Against Hate.”

This is a group where people who are urban and rural, spiritual and secular, can unite together to build an inclusive community. This movement is not about “us vs them.”  Dr. Akhtar stated that the success of this group is partnerships and cited examples of partnering with schools, especially the Baraboo High School and local media that supports this effort and shines a spotlight on it. Dr. Akhtar also thanked his wife and two children for their support and cooperation 24/7.

Dr. Akhtar is Muslim and shared that there are 10,000 Muslims in the Madison area and 40,000-50,000 Muslims in Wisconsin and that Muslims make up about 25% of the world’s population. After 9/11, the phrase “Islamic Terrorist” came to be, which implies that a religion is tied to terrorism and all in that religion are terrorists. When the phrase “go back home” is cited in America to non-white people, often by our politicians, it is very hurtful. We are all Americans as our constitution of the United States reads.

The United Against Hate movement is about education and non-partisan policies.  Part of the education is teaching others that Islam equals peace and dispelling myths about Islam all across Wisconsin. They teach us to react positively and not negatively and to dig into root causes and best practices within our communities. The movement includes a statewide advisory board representing various communities.

Dr. Akhtar would love to see Rotary start a chapter of the United Against Hate organization and take the movement to Rotary International. He cited these four things as a measure of success: be proactive; be strategic; be non-partisan; and act!

It’s all about peace and forgiveness.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War

submitted by Carole Trone

Bradley WernerRotarians were treated to excerpts of some of the most memorable hit songs of the 1960s while presenters Doug Bradley and Craig Werner explained the purpose behind their recent book, We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War. The title of their book comes from The Animals’ song, popularly known as the “national anthem” of Vietnam veterans. In fact, there is no such thing as THE Vietnam War experience.

Authors Werner and Bradley emphasized throughout their talk that we cannot do justice to this era without truly understanding the variety of experience and listening to the voices of those who served. Just fifteen to twenty percent of soldiers were officially designated as serving in combat roles, and so much of each individual soldier’s experience came down to when, where and what they did while serving in Vietnam. The strength of the book’s narrative comes from the more than 200 veterans who were interviewed, from every branch of service and at all rank levels and racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Popular American music served to comfort these mostly young soldiers and remind them of the homes that they desperately wanted to return to. Different songs held sway for different kinds of soldiers. Depending on the stress of the day or the time back at camp, soldiers might take solace in different genres of popular songs and these, too, could become flashpoints among a military assembled from all walks of American life.

So while this group of Rotarians readily hummed along to the timeless music of Marvin Gaye or Peter, Paul, and Mary, presenters Werner and Bradley reminded listeners to understand the individual experiences of this shared cultural soundtrack.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.


Madison College South Campus Doing Well Since Opening Doors in September 2019

submitted by Jessica Giesen; photo by Mike Engelberger

Jack Daniels 11 6 2019

Dr. Jack Daniels pictured here with Club President Andrea Kaminski

On November 6, Madison College President Dr. Jack Daniels presented an inside look into the first 60 days that the Madison College Goodman South Campus has been open. The campus has achieved a great deal during its opening months.  Bringing access to higher education to where it is needed; the campus is successfully breaking down barriers that students have faced in trying to achieve higher education. The campus is open seven days per week and offers programming every single one of those days. Madison College’s Truax campus has posed significant barriers for many in the community due to its location – for community members who live in the south Madison corridor, it can take up to an hour and a half to reach the Truax campus using public transportation, which rules out higher education for many for transportation reasons alone. The Goodman campus offers access to those who did not have it before. Out of the 2,000 students currently enrolled at the Goodman campus, 600 of them are new students – students who have never been accessed higher education before. Achieving greater access is a tremendous win for the Goodman campus and will continue to be a top priority for the campus as it continues to grow.

Dr. Daniels also gave an insight into the building itself – which incorporates art and cultural influences from four of the most represented cultures in the south Madison corridor—African American, Latinx, Hmong and Native American. Custom and representative artwork from those cultures lines the hallways and artifacts donated by community members are displayed prominently throughout the campus. In addition to educational programs, the campus also offers services ranging from counseling to housing to recording expungement. Moving forward, the campus hopes to continue to develop its range of programming and community partnerships so that it can be a catalyst for economic development into the future.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

KIVA-Madison Helping Area Entrepreneurs

submitted by Stan Inhorn; photo by Pete Christianson

Pam Christenson 10 23 2019

Pam Christenson (left) pictured here with Rotarian Kristin Schmidt

On October 23, 2019, Pam Christenson, one of the organizers of KIVA Greater Madison, described how this program that lends money to low-income people operates.  KIVA, which means “Unity” in Swahili, is an international organization that practices crowdfunding, in which small amounts of money are raised from large numbers of people. Other websites that provide crowdfunding are GoFundMe and StartSomeGood.

Here is how KIVA works. A borrower applies for a loan. A review team determines whether the proposal is fundable, and if approved, the borrower is asked to raise the first round of money from friends and family. They must raise at least $25 from 20 people, at zero percent interest.  The loans must be paid back within a certain period of time. Additional loans may be requested through KIVA, and these may come from people and companies all over the world.

Pam gave several instances of loans that succeeded in helping local entrepreneurs get started.

A Tibetan woman living in Madison bought a food cart in which she sold Tibetan food. She applied for a loan in order to rent a store on East Johnson in order to open a restaurant. One young engineering student designed a device that would vaporize fluid as an alternative to giving eye drops. Another young man asked for funds to buy corn seed, which he would use to grow corn that would be made into tortilla shells.

In its first year, KIVA Greater Madison has made 237 loans. The majority have gone to women and people of color. World-wide, the payback rate has been 96.9 percent. Experience has shown that microloans have been a successful venture that has allowed hundreds of enterprising people to carve out a new existence. In 2006, Mohammad Yunis was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for demonstrating that credit is a fundamental human right.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Milwaukee to Host Democratic Convention in 2020

submitted by Jessika Kasten; photo by Pete Christianson

Alex Lasry 10 23 2019

Alex Lasry pictured here with Club President Andrea Kaminski

This week, Alex Lasry, who led the bid for the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Milwaukee, spoke to the Downtown Rotarians about his experience and what this bid can mean for Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin. Alex was initially inspired to promote Milwaukee for the DNC bid after realizing that Milwaukee was never considered for the Amazon HQ2 location. He knew all that Milwaukee had to offer and believed that if we could bring people to the city and state, there would be positive downstream impacts for years to come.

The group hired the consultant who won the last two bids, submitted their RFP and did some grassroots work to highlight Milwaukee in Washington D.C. They made top three finalists (along with Miami and Houston), and then went on to raise double the amount of money for the convention than their competitors. Supporters from all political backgrounds came from all parts of the city, community and state to back the bid.

Alex’s main takeaway was that this is an opportunity not only for Milwaukee, but the entire State of Wisconsin. He believes that it is now our duty to develop opportunities and attractions to pull the 50,000 people coming to the convention over to Madison while they’re here. We can work together to provide venue space, attractions, lodging and more in effort to show off our community.

Alex believes that the measures for success are not around the DNC itself, but instead the impact the DNC has on the state’s economy years into the future. But in order to do that, we need to give people a reason to come back.

If you are interested in learning more, volunteering or registering a venue with the host committee, visit

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here.


Journalism at Risk

submitted by Jocelyn Riley; photo by Pete Christianson

Andy and Dee Hall 10 2 19   Andy and Dee J. Hall took turns Wednesday telling Rotarians about the mission and accomplishments of The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, the nonprofit and nonpartisan organization they co-founded in 2009.  The Center’s three guiding principles are displayed prominently at the top of its website,  PROTECT THE VULNERABLE · EXPOSE WRONGDOING · EXPLORE SOLUTIONS.  An independent media group such as theirs is necessary, the Halls argue, because traditional media outlets like newspapers are weakening and dwindling and “no news is bad news for our democracy.”  The Center has won many awards for its rigorously fact-checked investigative journalism and is increasing the reach of its work through an extensive paid internship program. To date, 48 former interns and fellows have moved on throughout the country and the world using skills and insights they gained at the Center.  The Halls cited stories from Wisconsin exposing human trafficking, inmates in solitary confinement (in one case 27 years in a cell the size of a parking space), and concerns about football concussions as examples of the kinds of investigations their Center can conduct free of pressure to make a profit.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here.

Creating Meaningful Conversations About Immigration

submitted by Valerie Renk; photo by Margaret Murphy

Karen Menendez Coller 9 25 19Karen Menendez Coller, Centro Hispano of Dane County Executive Director, shared how recent policies affect the Latino community.

Dr. Coller started with an overview of the state’s Latino community.  Seven percent of the population is Latino, and 27 percent are foreign born.  One fourth are K-12 students, and 34 percent live in poverty.

Opportunity barriers:  segregation, poverty, language, mobility, single parent households, housing cost and education.

Coller shared three policies impacting Latinos and our economy she hopes Rotarians will talk about with their networks.

Drivers’ Licenses for all is the first policy Coller highlighted.  The bill has support from the business community as it will increase safety and bring needed employees, especially on dairies where half of workers are Latino. Coller shared the story of Mario, from Honduras.  He is now a herdsman in DeForest with a close bond to his employer family.  He needs a license to drive to the farm.

Public Charge laws are the second policy Coller is concerned with.  These laws are designed to make it harder for families who use government benefits 12 out of 36 months to get citizenship. Coller shared the story of Jennifer, a legal permanent resident originally from Colombia, now a certified doula.  Jennifer has used government services and just wants to improve her family’s life.

In-state tuition is the third policy Coller would like to offer deferred action students, i.e. those who are citizens but with undocumented parents.  They are forced to pay the $40,000-$45,000 out of state UW-Madison tuition rate despite graduating from a Wisconsin High School having citizenship. Coller shared the story of Gilberto, a dreamer working three jobs.

Coller urged Rotarians to vote and learn about the estimated ten percent of Wisconsinites who are undocumented.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.