Category Archives: Rotary Club of Madison

Nowruz – A Celebration of the Iranian New Year

–submitted by Joyce Bromley; photos by Ted & Joan Ballweg

Iranian New Year Celebration 016Who could not use some Nowruz (celebration of spring and annual renewal)?  Majid Sarmadi brought the rich Iranian new year celebration to the Cultural Awareness Fellowship Group and their guests in this year of 2595.  This 3000 year Persian tradition is a celebration of renewal and hope with prepared foods that represent the seven angelic heralds.  Hyacinth (one of the first flowers of spring) brings beauty and its fragrance permeated the room.  The eloquently set table was a sight to behold.  Garlic bulbs decorated with a string of tiny pearls bring good health; vinegar takes a long time to make and requires patience; a beautiful tureen of sprouts (lentils) prosperity—good harvest and a year without hunger; elaborately decorated eggs promise fertility–rebirth; goldfish swimming in a bowl, a symbol of life; the illumination of candle-light brings happiness—good over evil; fresh fruit and sweets bring joy; and we ended with a taste of ground sweet sumac.  A book of poetry lay open reminding us of the eloquent Persian language.  This was the experience of haft sin and only the beginning of the evening.

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After an enthralling slide show of Iran–the culture, the geography, and its people—we traveled the gastronomic route.  Appetizers of eggplant paté, and hummus; a table display of basmati rice with saffron, casserole of assorted beans, braised eggplant with filet mignon; saffron chicken; and basmati rice with lima beans and dill—all of which were as sumptuous as they were beautiful.  All of these delicacies were entirely prepared by Majid.  Oh yes, the desserts!  Cream puffs (made earlier in the day), fresh fruit, rice-flour cookies, cardamom muffins, sohan (almond toffee), were enjoyed with a cup of tea.  At the end of the evening Majid gave us a gift to extend the evening.  We each received a freshly pressed one-dollar bill for good luck.

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We became Majid’s extended family and together we celebrated the joy of friendship in the Persian tradition and are richer for the experience.

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Holistic Support for Returning Veterans and Their Families

–submitted by Donna Hurd; photo by Pete Christianson

Will Beiersdorf 3 22 2017

From left: Club President Michelle McGrath, Will Beiersdorf, Nasra Wehelie and Susan Schmitz

After recognizing and showing appreciation for all Rotarians and guests who have provided military service to our country, fellow Rotarian Will Beiersdorf provided a brief but comprehensive overview of an organization that provides holistic support and care for those service men and women who have returned home with physical and often, severe invisible wounds of war.

With first-hand knowledge of the stress of deployment, Will was called into active duty after the events of September 11, 2001, leaving his wife and three young children behind.  Since that time, 800,000 service men and women have been deployed multiple times. This was almost unheard of prior to that date.  The toll of numerous deployments affects not only the servicemen and women but also their families.  The services available for many who have served are often inadequate and in all cases, only treat the wounded, leaving their families to seek help from other providers or caregivers.  Two million children and parents sought mental and behavioral healthcare since 2001.  One-third of the men and women returning from war suffer some type of trauma.  Approximately 400,000 have suffered a traumatic brain injury.  Besides the wounds suffered, approximately 22 veterans end their life every day, leaving family members to carry on.

In March 2013, Will was invited to assist with the formation of the Road Home Center for Veterans and their families.  Since that time, the organization has seen 400 – 500 veterans and their families each year.  They remove all barriers to receiving the needed services.  The organization’s mission is, “Help heal the invisible Wounds of War.”  They accomplish this by going beyond the level of care expected and needed.  The continuum of care provided by the Road Home Program incorporates clinical care, counseling, outreach services, and education.  The program employs Outreach Managers who have experienced the trauma of war, either directly or indirectly and can tell the story of why their services and this program are so needed.

Service Above Self, not only exemplifies Rotarians but also the brave men and women who choose to serve to protect the freedoms we all enjoy.  The bottom line of this program’s existence is, “We owe it to them to give back and help.”


Introducing the Candidates for MMSD School Board Seats 6 and 7

–submitted by Ben Hebebrand; photo by Pete Christianson

Muldrow Toews Vander Meulen 3 8 2017

From Left: Kate Toews, Ali Muldrow and Nicki Vander Meulen

The Rotary Club of Madison hosted a forum for candidates to the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). Each candidate offered an opening and closing statement.

Ali Muldrow, Seat 6:  In her opening statement, she stressed her long-standing commitment to MMSD, going all the way back to her days as a students, having graduated from east High School in 2004. As an alumna, she has continued her ties to East High School, volunteering her talents in a capacity as a facilitator of an arts club.  Ms. Muldrow’s platform centers on equity and inclusion: “Our district has a history of not serving every student equally,” she said. “We talk a lot about racial disparity, an opportunity gap, and an achievement gap – we talk a lot about exclusionary practices – we should talk more about inclusive efforts and practices.” In her opening statement, she concluded by painting a vision of the district “working differently” toward an ideal of “students falling in love with learning.”  In the closing statement, she elaborated on her idea of inclusionary practices. Recalling her days as a student, when 50 percent of the African-American district population did not graduate from high school, she “watched her peers disappear.” Instead, she urged “to reach for the stars – to aim to be at the forefront of inclusion and make space for students who have been left out.”

Kate Toews, Seat 6:  As the parent of a student enrolled in the MMSD, she affirmed her strong “belief in public education.” Citing her background in industry, specifically her work with the McKinsey & Co. global consultancy, she stressed her expertise in setting a vision and implementing such a vision into reality.  Ms. Toews’ platform centers on a three-prong vision: “We have the ability to be the best district in the country, because we have an engaged community. We can show the rest of the country how to do urban education,” she said, stressing clearly that privatization of schools is not the answer. She classified the School Board’s recent decision to fund a private school with a Caucasian student population as wrong, referring to a recent decision to extend charter school status to a current private school. Secondly, she cited the district for having a “workforce challenge,” implying that employment opportunities are not competitive. Thirdly, she mentioned the achievement gap that has “plagued us for a long time” – solutions can be found in hiring teachers of color and focusing on early childhood education.

Nicki Vander Meulen, Seat 7: Identifying herself as an autistic person, her candidacy is deeply rooted in the notion of “giving a voice to the students who are voiceless.  Ms. Vander Meulen’s platform centers primarily on how students with disabilities and with disadvantages need to be treated differently.  Citing disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates for African-American and handicapped students, she questioned the district’s discipline procedures. “We need a behavior education plan where facts are the same, and where punishments are equal,” she said. Further, she stressed the need for restorative justice solutions as opposed to handing students over to the juvenile court system.  She objected to current seclusion and time-out practices for disabled students as an example of unequal treatment.  Furthermore, she questioned the district’s wisdom in publishing a 70-page long document outlining behavior expectations and requiring students and families to sign those. “Let’s make the rules clear, simple, and precise.”

Did you miss our meeting this week?  Watch the video here.

Dane County Circuit Court Candidates Forum: Jill Karofsky vs. Marilyn Townsend

–submitted by Bill Haight; photo by Pete Christianson


Marilyn Townsend and Jill Karofsky

The two candidates for an open Dane County judge position began with an opening statement, then answered a series of questions presented by moderator Rotarian Andrea Kaminski.

Both candidates indicated a strong desire to address concerns of racial disparity, fairness in the judicial system and support of alternatives to incarceration – help versus punishment.   Both have backgrounds that illustrate their commitment to these concerns. Karofsky is serving as Executive Director of the Office of Crime Victim Services and as Wisconsin’s first Violence against Women Resource Prosecutor. Townsend has represented Unions and men and women on a broad array of issues, typically in cases where a client calls out their employer or a government agency for discrimination on the basis of wage, race, age, gender, or disability.

Attorney Karofsky, though not a judge, emphasizes her previous experience as an assistant district attorney handling “more than 10,000 cases in Dane County Courts, the exact kind of cases the judge will hear.”

Judge Townsend has served the Village of Shorewood Hills as Municipal Court Judge since 2012. In this capacity, she notes, she presides over trials, motion hearings and initial appearances, and decides the guilt or innocence of those who appear before her.

Karofsky contends that while municipal judges play an important role, Townsend’s municipal court experience dealing with mostly ordinance violations is not similar to the complexity of criminal cases, such as homicides, she would find in the circuit court.

When asked by the moderator about their “judicial philosophy” Townsend said she strives to make sure everyone’s voice is heard, “not just the rich and powerful,” Karofsky said her philosophy emphasizes “fairness, respect for everyone and a willingness to try new things [such as alternative courts for specialized cases]”

“Who is your hero?” Moderator Kaminsky asked.

“Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt,” said Townsend, “because they stood up for the little guy.”

“My Mother [former Middleton Mayor Judy Karofsky], replied Karofsky, “because she always fought for fairness for the little guy.”

Did you miss our meeting this week?  Watch the video here.

Hip Hop Architect in the House!

–submitted by Dawn Crim; photo by John Bonsett-Veal


Club President Michelle McGrath and Michael Ford

What can Rotarians learn from the intersection between hip hop and architecture? Michael Ford educated Rotarians on the intersection first starting with history. How hip hop has influenced things over time with things ranging from chairs, boots and photos to artist evolutions. Michael Ford took Rotarians through the creative journeys of Pablo Picasso’s art and Le Corbusier’s architecture illustrating their connection to Hip Hop and the influence Hip Hop had on their work.

Michael Ford shared how Le Corbusier’s five design elements first introduced in Paris were brought to life in urban buildings in New York through Robert Moses’ designed buildings. Unfortunately, Robert Moses only took parts of Le Corbusier’s plan, just using the physical structure, missing the spirit of what the building could do for people. The result, Michael Ford described as an architectural ‘bad remix’ because the buildings in New York City, although similar in physical structure were considered ‘concrete jungles’, not contributing positively to the spirit and lives of the people living there.

According to the talk, it is no coincidence that rap was born in New York City, in the Bronx, because that is where many of these structures were built. One can trace rap songs in the 1970’s back to descriptions of these structures.

From the popularity of his lectures and expertise, Michael Ford is helping to design the Universal Hip Hop Museum in New York City.  He is working with Hip Hop artists from the 70’s and 80’s like Kurtis Blow and the Sugar Hill Gang to design exhibits to tell their our story in the museum. The museum will include public housing, market rate housing, a hotel, children’s museum, retail space and an amphitheater.

Michael Ford has done talks and projects all around the country. He has also created Hip Hip Architecture Camps here in Madison. The camp’s mission is to introduce traditionally marginalized or underrepresented youth to architecture, urban planning and economic development through the lens of hip-hop culture.

He has partnered with the City of Madison Department of Planning, Community & Economic Development, The Madison Public Library and Capital Area Regional Planning Commission to help kids bring their visions and voices into the Imagine Madison Initiative. This initiative will provide input into the City’s 25-Year Comprehensive plan.

From the response to today’s talk, many Rotarians may also bring their ideas to the plan. Some of those ideas may be grounded in hip hop.

2017 Ethics Symposium Highlights

–submitted by Andrea Kaminski

dsc_0106More than 200 students from 20 area high schools assembled at Monona Terrace Convention Center on February 17 for the 17th Annual Rotary Ethics Symposium, underwritten by our club’s Madison Rotary Foundation. They were welcomed by 2017 Ethics Symposium Chair Steve Johannsen, who noted that we all face ethical dilemmas several times a week. He explained that often it’s a small matter, for example, what to do when your cell phone starts ringing in a meeting. Other dilemmas can be gut-wrenching. Steve introduced the students to a hierarchy of four stages of ethical decision-making:

  • Stage 1: What action benefits me most? (Egoism)
  • Stage 2: What actions would my friends or group members think I should do? (Social Group Relativism)
  • Stage 3: What action would produce the greatest amount of good and the least amount of harm? (Utilitarian)
  • Stage 4: What action best respects the rights and dignity of each person? (Rights)

dsc_0046The First Wave Hip Hop Theater then opened the event artistically with dramatizations of three ethical dilemmas that teens might have to face: what to do when the friend who drove you to a party gets drunk; what to make of a famous athlete’s protest during the national anthem; and how to talk with a friend about a decision he has made. First Wave is a cutting-edge, multicultural, artistic program for UW-Madison students. It was the first university scholarship program in the country centered on the spoken word and hip-hop culture. The actors portrayed the dilemmas with humor and insight, and the moderator (a First Wave alumnus who now teaches in the Verona schools) invited audience participation between acts.

The students then participated in three consecutive breakout sessions in which they considered an ethical dilemma and analyzed it according to the stages of ethical decision-making. The scenarios focused on drunk-driving, affirmative action and transgender locker rooms. Designed by Edgewood College Business Ethics Professor Denis Collins and others, the breakout sessions were led by Rotarians with assistance from Edgewood College students, all of whom had been trained in a half-day session at Edgewood College before the symposium. With 18-20 students in each breakout, the facilitators led the students through a series of small-group discussions in which they deliberated about what action would reflect each level, or stage, of decision-making. The goal was to push students toward higher-level thinking.

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I found the students in the three groups that my team facilitated to be open-minded and thoughtful. They were generally familiar with the issues in the three scenarios, at least through the news. Whether they were personally connected with an issue or not, they found the discussion to be eye-opening. For example, one small-town student said that although he had heard about the transgender issue, he had never talked with anyone about it.  A student from Shabazz City High School responded that in her school there are many transgender students, and anyone may use any restroom or locker room. She added that the discussion at the Ethics Symposium helped her understand why the issue, which she said is “normalized” in her school, is an emotional one for others.


Rotary President Michele McGrath applied her impressive skill in communicating with teens by asking how many wanted to be a CEO of a company or organization in a few years, how many want to lead impactful change in their community, and how many want to lead impactful change in the world. She got an enthusiastic response to all three questions. She explained they can do that through Rotary.

The impact of the day may have been best articulated by the students themselves at lunchtime. Almost 40 of them responded when Steve Johannsen asked what they thought about the experience. Here are some of the things they said:

  • Even though people disagreed, I appreciated that people could talk and be respected.
  • Listening to other people’s opinions made me more open-minded.
  • It’s not OK to isolate someone for being different.
  • If you feel comfortable in school, then you can’t learn.
  • I gained some ideas for our upcoming Awareness Day at school this spring.
  • It was cool how many people think outside the box, not just levels 1, 2 and 3.
  • It helped me understand other schools, and not just the stereotypes about schools.
  • I was shocked by how many people were not mad at each other about their opinions.
  • I was surprised by how easy the ethical framework was to use after the first time.
  • It was good to talk with students about topics I don’t even talk to adults about.
  • I usually don’t share my opinions with people I don’t know. I was comfortable doing that here.
  • I was surprised how insightful and deeply thoughtful people were even though we’re “just teenagers.”
  • As an openly transgender student, I was happy to see how accepting people were of me.
  • I recognized that there was no single right or wrong answer in some issues.
  • I was impressed by how open people were to listening to others. It makes me optimistic and hopeful as we get ready to become the leaders of this nation.

Carson Gulley’s Legacy

–submitted by Moses Altsech

5130078da3521-imageWhat happens when you live in a society where the government and the majority of the people show a complete disregard for social and civil rights? Well, if you’re Carson Gulley you defiantly march on in the face of adversity and accomplish greatness against all odds.

The son of a former slave from Arkansas, Carson Gulley came to Madison in 1926 at a time when Jews and people of color were not allowed to join fraternities or sororities, hotels and restaurants banned African Americans, and there were even restrictions on trying on clothes at a department store if you were a person of color.

Thirty years later Carson Gulley had become one of the first instructors of c
olor at the University of Wisconsin, had written cookbooks, and had become a celebrity chef with his very own radio and television programs co-hosted with his wife Beatrice. He traveled across Wisconsin and to neighboring states for speaking engagements, having to drive home right away because usually the town would not have a hotel that allowed people of color to stay there.

seyforth-scott-2-1-2017As Scott Seyforth noted, in 1954, Gulley was a speaker at our [then all-white] Rotary Club. It’s natural to think of Carson Gulley’s odyssey with admiration for his courage, yet one can’t help but think of the torment that he endured during a lifetime of discrimination.

Although he retired from the University after 27 years of service and after having been routinely passed over for promotion, he became the first African American to have a building named after him at the University in 1965, three years after his death.

If Carson Gulley’s life story is inspirational, let it also be a call to action to stand up against all forms of discrimination and make our country better tomorrow than it was yesterday–just as he did. That’s Carson Gulley’s legacy and that should be ours as well.

You can watch the YouTube video, “The Life and Times of Carson Gulley,” here.