Back on track at Hallie Q. Brown/MLK Center


In 2009 The Hallie Q. Brown/Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center (HQB) will celebrate 80 years of service in St. Paul’s Summit- University neighborhood. This year the organization will be taking on new challenges. In order to meet those challenges the organization expects to make several key changes and has hired a new executive director to continue their original mission of providing much needed services to the community.

Former Minneapolis Empowerment Zone Executive Director Jonathan Palmer has taken the reins as HQB’s new executive director. Palmer is the sixth permanent executive director in the history of the organization.

“I really enjoy being here and being connected to the community,” Palmer said. “It is almost overwhelming to have the executive director position at HQB because of the long-standing history of the center in the Rondo community.”

According to Palmer, HQB has had its share of challenges in the past few years. Some managerial and some organizational. Palmer began his new role in March of this year with many organizational priorities on his plate. He worked with the board going through strategic planning to develop long-term goals for HQB. Palmer had to look at all the internal practices and policies and staffing needs to restructure and address shortfalls.

“I am the first permanent executive director in three or four years. We are looking to change some of the processes and programs of the organization so we can rebuild and renew looking forward to the 2009 kick off for the organizations 80th anniversary,” Palmer said.

Palmer’s first steps were to restructure the organization and build an effective team. Day one of Palmer’s executive director’s position focused on “re-designing” the staff by introducing a new organizational chart with new staff positions and new classifications.

“It is a combination of a new board, new partners and new executive director coming together to help HQB rebuild itself,” Palmer said. “The board needed somebody who could take the reins to try to address some of the issues.”

“Jonathan stood out because of his experience with non-profits; his financial experience and his work with foundations and the community,” said HQB Board Chairperson Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter. “These experiences combined with his skills, talents and references were a match for HBQ.”

Previously, Palmer was executive director of the Minneapolis Empowerment Zone Project. Prior to that was executive director for the Jordan Area Community Council. Palmer said he got into community engagement work after being inspired by his uncle Gleason Glover.

Glover is credited for some of the most successful years of growth of the Minneapolis Urban League. From 1967 to 1991, as Chief Executive Officer, Glover helped build a prominent reputation and budget for the Minneapolis Urban League.

“My uncle, showed me what I was going to do with my life,” Palmer said.

Palmer grew up in the Washington D. C. area and graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. In between his sophomore and junior years he visit his uncle here in Minnesota. Palmer spent a couple of years mentoring under Glover and fell in love with community work, community engagement and Minnesota.

In 1998 Palmer came to work on a masters degree at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota..

The HQB mission statement is to improve the quality of life for those in the community by providing critical human services, promoting personal growth and fostering community leadership.

According to Carter, Palmer’s attitude and temperament in the interview process seemed to fit HQB because as the organization evolves into a new structure for the community his temperament will help him manage the organization she said. Palmer was chosen after the board hired KP Companies of Minneapolis to assist in a nationwide search for a new executive director. The firm’s first step in the search process was to define the status and needs of HQB. Through a network of people, the agency found and interviewed applicants from all over the country before the board chose Palmer.

“Under Jonathan we will be in a transition period so it was a good thing in moving forward to hire him because it will give the organization the opportunity to re-invest in the community,” Carter added. “With Jonathan we will engage a heightened level of strategic planning.

“The future with Jonathan Palmer at the helm involves partnering with people who have needs for recreation, socialization and economic empowerment,” Carter said.

Carter said HQB has invited new partners such as Ramsey County to open a resource hub for financial services and child and family services. One new program is called Project Voice, which invites people in the community to work with “system partners.” Ramsey County the City of Saint Paul and the St. Paul School District will be involved as system partners who work on issues like student achievement and child safety. All this will bring together financial services, human services and public health services and invite others to engage with families to create one family-centered, community driven service center.

According to Carter, Project Voice will give HQB an opportunity to engage and ask questions like what does the community mean and how can HQB be more effective for empowering families and the community for ensuring that our children are well.

“We want to build on the heritage of HQB as the lighthouse which provides energy for many years in the community,” Carter added.

“Project Voice brings together our partners who do a little bit of each thing so we can give a comprehensive approach to clients” Palmer said. “Partners in the HQB building like Penumbra theatre and St. Paul Parks and Recreation are all building a better partnership so HQB can be a cultural Mecca for the community as a whole,” Palmer added.

“We want to be clear that we are an African American-focused community center, but we are not exclusive in that regard and we welcome all people,” Palmer said. “We have some crossover and there is definitely opportunity to partner more with other cultures.”

Palmer emphasizes that many things in at HQB will remain such as the food shelf that feeds the community including those form the Hmong and Somali communities. Other communities utilize the HQB center for meetings, weddings and receptions.

“We would like to be a central point for the African American community as a whole where the first thing people think about is HQB. We want to connect all people and work with all to bridge some of the cultural gaps that are barriers in the Twin Cities and the state,” Palmer explained.

“The names of Hallie Q. Brown (as an educator) and Martin Luther King Jr. have a history of bridging gaps, bringing people together and crossing over cultural lines. We need to raise up the African American Community and integrate it with the rest of society on an equal level and that is the long-term vision. I want people to see our community as equal and capable. I think Barack Obama has done this on a national level and it is our responsibility to rise to that level,” said Palmer.

For more information on the Hallie Q. Brown/Martin Luther King Community Center, call (651) 224-4601.