Jonathan Palmer

Jonathan Palmer

For the month of December, “Conversations with Al McFarlane – a Town Hall” will be podcast at 12 o’clock (7 days a week), an hour before our regular Monday thru Friday programming at 1 o’clock.  With the COVID 19 death rate for African Americans twice that of whites, and cases of infection three times with a population of approximately 15%, the critical health crisis in our communities requires “lighthouses” – those places housing leaders, elders, organizers, directors of social service agencies  . . . those concerned and committed to addressing feasible solutions to aid in combatting the disastrous effects of the year-long COVID19 pandemic, especially on our children.  Since February, 1 in every 1,000 Black Americans with coronavirus have died from the virus – about 40,000.  1 in every 2,150 whites have perished in comparison.  This disparity is unacceptable. When we “unite” around a collaborative and coordinated crusade tapping into existing resources, we have an opportunity to lessen the enemy’s physical, mental, economic, and emotional wrath.  Our daily guests will provide information and resources to help our communities navigate this unprecedented pandemic that caught everyone off guard and unprepared.     

At some time, often when we least expect it, we all have to face overwhelming challenges. When the unthinkable happens, the lighthouse is hope. Once we find it, we must cling to it with absolute determination. When we have hope, we discover powers within ourselves we may have never known - the power to make sacrifices, to endure, to heal, and to love. Once we choose hope, everything is possible.Christopher Reeve

Jonathan Palmer, Executive Director for Hallie Q. Brown Community Center, and Al McFarlane, host of  “Conversations with Al McFarlane” and editor of “Insight News” since 1976, are long-time friends.  They are both proud Morehouse College alumni.  Their family name is McFarlane with an Irish (Scottish) contribution in the bloodline.  They both find the comic book genre and their superhero characters inspiring for children and adults citing the profound impact of Marvel’s Black Panther.  Young people are motivated to read, and in doing so,learn never to give up . . . never to give in . . . that they have the capacity to transcend the odds like the heroes.  Al and Jonathan have something else in common . . . a mission to use their expertise; their resources; their love for community - to bring awareness of the dire predicaments facing our neighborhoods and their residents due to the COVID19 pandemic and resulting financial and academic anxieties. 

Along with his dedicated and phenomenal staff, the community activist leader and backbone of the historic Hallie Q. Brown Community Center has shifted the center’s program focus to address the needs of the community – all ages, abilities, ethnic backgrounds, and economic levels during this unprecedented time. The center offers a safe and productive environment; opportunities to contribute while simultaneously expanding their talents and knowledge; and are linked to the history and heritage of the intergenerational and cross cultural experiences the St. Paul Rondo community provided over the decades.  The area was the hub of the local Black community in 20th century Twin Cities consisting of a viable working-class community supported by social clubs, religious organizations, community centers, and a thriving business community.

The organization was born as a result of the vision, commitment, and tireless efforts of several community leaders in the 1920s.  It was during this decade that the St. Paul Urban League was formed in an attempt to address the growing social problems facing African Americans in the capital city. The winner of a student essay contest determined the name of the center.  Hallie Q. Brown was an educator, an author, a women’s suffrage leader, and an elocutionist at the turn of the century.  She was the daughter of slaves who were highly educated and very active in the Underground Railroad.  After graduating from Wilberforce University (a historical Black college) in 1873, Hallie began teaching on several plantations with an emphasis on improving the literacy levels of Black children who had been denied the chance during slavery. As Dean of Women of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, she worked with Booker T. Washington.

The impressive scholar and speaker went on to become a principal promoter of the Colored Women’s League of Washington, D.C. and helped to establish the National Association of Colored Women (NACW).  She campaigned for Calvin Coolidge’s presidency; served as a representative of the U.S. at the International Congress of Women; and while traveling globally as a lecturer for African American culture and current topics spoke before Queen Victoria.  It was remarkable how much Hallie Q. Brown accomplished and connected with power.  She returned to St. Paul twice a year, speaking to Black churches and organizations.  Topics of her writings commonly addressed the importance of history and social change often using African American vernacular to stress these messages with the goal of helping to educate.  Her most popular publication, “Homespun Heroines” is the collection of life portraits of 60 history making African American women.

Not long after the HQB Community Center was established, the facility was moved to the Masonic Hall, and in 1972 re-located to its current home in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Center in the Summit University area where 50% of the population are minority residents. The center has thus evolved from an independent human services provider to a multi-service center.  It is the administrative body of the MLK Center which houses partners offering specialized services and programs including the nationally recognized Penumbra Theatre company, the MLK recreation center operated through the city of St. Paul, and the MLK Service center operated by the HQB community center, both housed in the MLK building. 

HQB Community Center has been working with the Minnesota Department of Health along with Girls are Powerful, the Minneapolis NAACP, Insight News, and Stairstep Foundation.  The HQB website provides COVID 19 information including a listing of responsibilities for managers and supervisors; employees; business protection measures; and CDC resource updates.  The service center’s current areas of concentration are sustaining the “Food Shelf” (a dramatic increase in requests from all over the state); early education (learning center); and a safe and productive academic environment for children of essential workers and those parents being forced to return to work.  The community can support HQB’s work through donations of ‘funds or food’.  Retired educators are welcomed to volunteer by helping tutor through virtual outlets.

For further information, please contact:  Hallie Q. Brown Community Center - 270 N. Kent Street; St. Paul, MN  55102 – (651) 224-4601 –

As Dr. BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya (African American Child Wellness Institute) reminds us . . . “If Black Lives Matter, then save yours!  Wear A Mask!” 

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