Gertrude Matemba-Mutasa, executive director, Phyllis Wheatley Community Center

Gertrude Matemba-Mutasa, executive director, Phyllis Wheatley Community Center

Phyllis Wheatley Community Center in North Minneapolis seeks to continue its 95 years of service to community, now under the direction of Gertrude Matemba-Mutasa.

Matemba-Mutasa took over as executive director for the center this past August. Phyllis Wheatley, a legacy institution in the Twin Cities, was originally established as a settlement house for Black women who had migrated to the area in hopes of finding employment and in search of a better life for them and their families. The Wheatley, as some called it, also housed Black students from the University of Minnesota who were not permitted to live on campus, as well as Black dignitaries and entertainers who, due to segregation, could not stay in white hotels. Some who enjoyed the comforts of The Wheatley included W.E.B. Dubois, Marian Anderson, Langston Hughes, A. Phillip Randolph, Ethel Waters, Paul Robeson and others.

“We were established to meet the needs of the community, and as the needs have evolved, we have evolved,” said Matemba-Mutasa during a recent Facebook Live sit-down with Al McFarlane, Insight News editor-in-chief.

That evolution has included running a childcare and learning center, a program for men with a history of violence who are working to gain skills to resolve conflict non-violently in their lives and a program that provides ongoing support and legal advocacy for women who have been victims of domestic violence. The childcare center was established in 1929 and, according to Matemba-Mutasa, it has the highest standard of rating in childcare from the state.

“We’re also working with our adults to make good decisions; to build strong relationships and to show them the way to economic self-sufficiency,” said the director. “Whatever you come to Phyllis Wheatley for, we are in a position to connect you with other community resources so we can take care of you as a whole person.”

The center is also host site for the annual Minneapolis Juneteenth celebration.

Juneteenth is widely regarded as the celebration of Black independence in the U.S. The name derives from a mash-up of June and 19th, the date in 1865 Blacks in Galveston, Texas – the last to be notified – were emancipated. Though most slaves were freed, the official end to slavery didn’t occur until December of 1865.

The Twin Cites celebration of Juneteenth takes place June 15 from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. at the park connected to Phyllis Wheatley, Bethune Park, 1304 North 10th Ave. The celebration is an all ages event and free to the public. This year’s featured entertainment is ‘90s R&B mainstay, Christopher Williams, singer of the No. 1 hit, “I’m Dreamin’” and “Talk to Myself.” In addition to entertainment, Juneteenth will feature food, vendors and a variety of family activities.

Matemba-Mutasa’s interview with Insight News is available online at

Insight News is a media partner of this year’s Juneteenth celebration.

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