This year Hallie Q. Brown Community Center reached 90 years of servicing St. Paul and the greater Twin-Cities area. The Center marked this milestone in October with its annual fundraising gala, “A Night At The Q.”
Founded in 1929, the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center (HQB) is one of the largest African American non-profit organizations in the state of Minnesota. In the days of its founding, it was second only to the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center, founded in 1924 and located on the other side of the river in Minneapolis.
“We still have the football trophy,” bragged Hallie Q. Brown Executive Director Jonathan Palmer, referencing an inside joke about an infamous football game between the two centers in the mid-1900s. Hallie Q. won.
The community center is named after Hallie Quinn Brown (1849-1950) a famous Black educator, activist, and powerful orator speaking often on behalf of and organizing for women’s suffrage and civil rights.
HQB often refers to itself as the “lighthouse of the community.” It remains a guiding force.
“The light is still shining. You know you’ve got to clean those light panels every once and a while, but we’re still here and we’re still serving our original residents,” said Dawn Selle, director of External Affairs and Development.
“HQB is a lighthouse in the community. From basic needs to community events, HQB has something for everyone,” attested Kelly Reitow in a Facebook post acknowledging the center’s decades of service.
In 2019, Hallie Q. Brown will have served nearly 50,000 individuals. “We’ve got people from Wisconsin that come to use our food shelf because they feel comfortable here,” she said.
When you run the gamut on non-profit and community service organizations, it is likely that you won’t find many like HQB. “I bet we practically know everybody that comes through the door or their families,” noted Selle.
“Everybody has a Hallie story,” said Palmer.
“That was the place to go to as far as recreation and daycare,” recalled long-time St. Paul resident and artist Donald Walker, who was a regular in his teens during the mid-1960s. “And the people back then, it was Ms. Taylor and another; not only did they run Hallie Q. Brown, but they were very close to the people that came there.
“They were [like our] the grandparents and parents once we got there. Friday night they would have a band there. So it would be like a teenager’s evening or night. We weren’t into the shooting and stuff, it was unheard of; Hallie Q. Brown kept us in line.”
Both Selle and Palmer value the personal relationships formed because of HQB, even throughout generations.
“We have a young woman who is 85 who is in our magnificent Golden Agers. [She] started off in our childcare in our original location; [she] still comes to this building once a week for computer classes,” said Selle.
In 2018, HQB completed the Hallie Q. Brown Archive Project as an effort to identify, restore and link the history of the center and the Rondo neighborhood to the present-day. In this spirit, HQB’s civic engagement efforts are both a reflection and continuation of the historical organizations that worked in the past to sustain the local Black community.
The Archive Project has allowed HQB to preserve photos and factoids of historical figures along with their contributions to the community, which are aligned on the walls of the center. One can spot people like St. Paul born attorney Frederick L. McGhee, “the first African American criminal lawyer west of the Mississippi.”
In one of HQB’s meeting rooms rests a large poster of Black men in striking uniforms. Palmer pointed out that, “when you look back at these men—the Red Caps and the Pullman Porters and the core piece that they were for the community—they were the civic leaders, they were the ones that organized what was happening. They started the organizations, the social clubs. That is what we look to do now.”
“I was so amazed to walk in the community center and they had pictures and history on the wall. I was there for my uncle and cousins’ Hall of Fame induction for the family. I could see my St. Paul roots from the Rondo days,” said St. Paul resident Joseph Lewis Jr.
Hallie Q. Brown offers a range of programming and services that not only ensure families have access to basic necessities through their various food drives and clothing closet but with strategic community partners, they are able to offer developmental and professional opportunities as well.
Prepare and Prosper, for instance, provides free tax preparation services from January through April, and the Schubert Club allows HQB to offer free piano and guitar lessons through its program Project CHEER.
“We are a community center in the truest sense of the word in that we are about the community and a center of the community. We are a comprehensive organization that touches on all aspects of people’s lives,” said Palmer. “Every person that is here, is here for a reason. I hire with the specific intention of hiring people that care more about the mission than they do about a paycheck.”
Not only does HQB work to support the individual, but other entities as well, providing business operation essentials such as mailboxes, phone lines, and office-space. “We’re fiscal agents. We’re partners with people that wouldn’t [otherwise] be able to have spaces,” said Selle.
Offering such a variety of services does not come easy. “We are fifty-percent self-funded,” explained Selle. “And that is unique for organizations that last,” added Palmer.
Between November and December, HQB will serve nearly 2,000 families between its holiday food drives and annual Christmas Toy Drive.
“We’re still connecting the community, making sure that people can access the resources,” said Palmer, “making sure that people can get a chance to connect with their neighbors, and very much so, making sure that the history is alive and that the spirit of Rondo is flowing through our center,” proclaimed the proud executive director.
Hallie Q. Brown is currently welcoming donations for their holiday food drives and their Christmas Toy Drive. For more information, visit www.hallieqbrown.org/site or call 651-224-4601.