Monday, July 27, 2009

Who Is WHO? A Very Anonymous Contemporary History Of The Willard Homewood Organization...

Photo By John Hoff

For a couple months, I kept hearing bits and pieces about interesting political schisms in the Willard Homewood neighborhood which swirl around WHO, the Willard Homewood Organization.

I kept asking people who were apparently "in the know" to write down the facts for me, as they understood the (rather convoluted) facts to be, so a public discussion could take place and (hopefully) even more facts could come to light, as well as other points of view about the issues.

Recently, a very anonymous source put together a very anonymous history for me, which I am printing in its entirety.

Here it is, word-for-word...


W.H.O. as we know it today re-formed following a large meeting of neighbors and block club leaders at the Theodore Wirth Chalet in December 2006. At that meeting and others held openly and regularly, they established several standing committees, including one to specifically address the issue of Uncle Bill's, the convenience store that had become the epicenter of crime in the neighborhood.

One committee worked to establish bylaws and legally reconstitute the non-profit status that would allow WHO to once again be eligible to pursue grants as well as be the official funnel for NRP dollars, rather than the often-maligned NRRC, which many Willard-Homewood residents to this day do not feel represents their interests. One member of that committee, an attorney, secured pro bono representation and assistance from one of the largest law firms in Minneapolis to achieve these goals.

Meetings of the main WHO body (generally known as Block Club Leader meetings, though they were open to the general public) and its component committees took place regularly and both meeting minutes and agendas were circulated promptly.

A web site was established. A blog. A listserv. An archive of agendas and minutes. A newsletter. New block clubs sprang up across the neighborhood. Plans for new economic development along the west end of Plymouth Avenue were hatched. Things were happening. Then, WHO activism, including the submission of more than 80 Community Impact Statements, directly led to the shuttering and condemnation of Uncle Bill's in May 2007.

Enter Al McFarlane

Al McFarlane believes that Black control over the governance and the NRP process is critical to adequately serving the needs of the neighborhood. In his writings in Insight News, he has said that "even liberal whites perceive Black advancement, unbridled and self-directed, as a certain threat to cultural and political hegemony."

Not surprisingly, it did not take long for Al McFarlane to notice the resuscitation of the organization, led by a white couple, and throughout 2007 he ratcheted up his involvement in meetings. In February 2007, he published an article in his mouthpiece "Insight News" that essentially accused George and Bev Roberts of restricting "who can be at the table." Methodically, Mr. McFarlane created and engendered racial distrust and hostility through his words and actions via Insight News, his ongoing regular "Conversations" events, at the WHO meetings themselves, and in person with neighborhood residents.

It got so bad so quickly that distrustful black residents began to suspect unannounced meetings were taking place and, if they observed even a small table of people set up inside Homewood Studios (a common location for committee meetings, at Plymouth & Russell), they would enter and accuse the Roberts of such things. It was about this time that the sobriquet "White Homeowners Organization" began to circulate.

George and Bev Roberts are the most unassuming and friendly folks you can imagine, and have 40+ years of community involvement to their credit. George was a teacher at North High.

At WHO meetings, McFarlane used any number of techniques to systemically slow down and eventually mire the entire organization in procedural and parliamentary quicksand. Once-energized committee members slowly but surely walked away from their participation, discouraged by what was taking place. Approval of the completed bylaws
never happened, and eventually the pro bono law firm severed ties, too.

I'm told that there were even threats made against George and Bev Roberts (by whom, I do not know), and they walked away, too, though both have remained involved with the one remaining WHO standing committee (Economic Development), which has continued as an unaffiliated, disembodied entity with regular meetings, and whose primary achievement is the well-known "Artists' Core" homeowner initiative.

The Shift

Into the leadership vacuum stepped Al McFarlane, Beverly Propes and Reverend Randy Staten. Al controls the agenda, and "parliamentarian" Randy Staten controls the procedural matters, effectively controlling the meetings.

Following this change, meeting attendance dropped off substantially. By summer 2008, meetings often consisted of just a handful of people, and sometimes even just McFarlane and Propes. Timely announcement of meetings became a thing of the past, as did advance circulation of agendas and prompt delivery of minutes. No longer were these documents properly archived on the WHO web site, and often the meetings board at NorthPoint identified the wrong room where the WHO meeting would actually be held.

The "new" McFarlane-controlled WHO took two more years to bring bylaws to a vote, involving now-ousted JACC executive director Jerry Moore as an adviser in their development. Nobody seems to know how much, if any, of the wonderful pro bono work that the "old" WHO secured was actually retained -- only the small cadre of McFarlane insiders do, apparently. But Moore's involvement has certainly led many residents to distrust everything that he has touched.

In those two years, no committees were created, nor did any meet. At a glance, nothing of any real substance occurred beyond the highly suspect bylaw development.

Now out of nowhere comes Lennie Chism's proposal to open a co-op grocery in the former Uncle Bill's building. Is it really any surprise that McFarlane is supporting this, regardless of merit, common sense or Chism's sullied reputation, when we know that his M.O. is that the Black community must pull itself up by its own bootstraps, and by his own writings that anything whites do is solely to maintain the existing white power structure?

(End of History) 

JNS says: Well, that's fascinating. Of course, the way I heard it verbally, the split by the WHO Economic Development committee was described as something along the lines of a separatist movement, and I've also heard that power and cohesion by this stand-alone committee continues to aggregate, to the point the Economic Development Committee is virtually a rival neighborhood association able to compete toe-to-toe with the McFarlane-controlled WHO machine.

But much of this Willard Homewood stuff is unfamiliar to me, and so I depend on those who have a viewpoint and facts to share these matters in comments.


guynmpls said...

Thanks for posting that Johnny. As a resident of Willard Hay, I wanted to get involved, I searched the net and found a nice looking website. It looked great and appeared to want to be informative and useful, but items had not been added or updated in quite a long time and I figured things fell by the wayside. Good intentions and all that. I hadn't heard about the WHO at all until the Uncle Bill's discussion over the last few weeks. Now things make a little more sense.

Anonymous said...

This is an accurate description--and no, I'm not the author. It's really hard to describe how open-hearted and self-effacing the Roberts' are, and how hard they tried to work with Al, whom they have been neighbors with for decades.

My personal observation was that the nicer the Roberts' were, the more envious and bitter Al McFarlane became, almost comically so. The whole relationship reminded me of someone who has an older brother who is on the football team, and makes straight A's, but then the worst part is that he's really nice, too, and totally understanding of how you must feel, so you can't even have that.

I don't know whether the nonprofit organization was ever formed, or whether WHO has been meeting during all this time--only that whenever anyone (often a new resident) sends a message to the list innocently asking if WHO is still meeting any upcoming meetings, Al likes to respond dismissively, for instance telling the person to "calm down" in the time he could have taken to just answer the question . . . that is, until the Uncle Lennie's meeting, which he very generously announced to the list one day before the meeting, so that I, for one, wasn't able to make arrangements to attend.

Al primarily uses the e-mail list to forward links to long treatises with subject lines like "THINGS WHITE PEOPLE SHOULD READ" and "MUST SEE TV FOR WHITE PEOPLE," and no introductory comment of his own, as you would expect if someone was actually interested in starting a dialog.

But, of course, this is all water under the bridge, and what matters is not how many organizations someone sets up, but what work they do. The people who focus on accomplishing something positive will shine, and, bit by bit, will bring good things to the community.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a very mild summary of the past 2 (or so) years of Al McFarlane beating his drum of racial tension.

Question: When will leaders like Al McF get unstuck and out of the rut that they are in? We aren't in 1960s/70s anymore and we can all function as one unit while being led by a leader who is a visionary, regardless of the race of that leader.

Unknown said...

When I moved here in 2003, I found that there was an "Upper Willard Hay" website. (Willard Hay North of Golden Valley Road). Since I'm south of GVR, this organization did not apply to me. Uncle Bill's and its issues also did not directly apply to this area. I would think West Broadway was a much more immediate problem for them. So I was glad to see some organizational activity encompassing "lower willard hay" (with the change from hay to homewood, to reflect the history of the southern part of the neighborhood). There were a couple of different committees, with their own listserves started, including one on crime (WHO Dun it). Now the two components of WHO upper and lower appear to have split again. Upper again has it's own list. The stated reasons have been practical, but with what you've described, if WHO has become hamstrung by some disagreements about fundamental decisions about economic development in the community, and racial politics, it's not hard to see why "upper" has decided it needs to communicate separately to deal with more immediate problems like break-ins, and problem houses like the ones you describe in Hawthorne.

I am of the opinion, that smaller neighborhood organizations can be more effective anyway. If you look at a map of Mpls neighborhoods, it's startling how tiny they are compared to the ones in North. Willard-Hay could easily be split into 4 different neighborhoods. If the scammers had to get the approval of multiple groups or of a small group of people who lived RIGHT NEXT DOOR to what they wanted to do, we might see a little more accountability. That's the way it works in south.

Anonymous said...

"we can all function as one unit while being led by a leader who is a visionary, regardless of the race of that leader."

I'm afraid that McFarlane understands this quite well, and it is his single greatest fear.

Anonymous said...

The old WHO group had Uncle Bills closed to build artist lofts - a failed project by Cherryholmes and George Roberts and Bev Roberts. See the sign on the lots across the street? It was never bout Uncle Bills - it was bout a housing development failed when the real estate market failed. Ask George and Bev, Jackie, and so on. Now we are just going to have another vacant lot in our neighborhood that will exist long after those individuals are dead.

Homewood Confidential said...

Anon @5:38PM - The vacant lots on the NW corner of Plymouth and Sheridan were where the artists' live/work spaces were supposed to be built, not on the Uncle Bill's property. Furthermore, the project predates both WHO and the Economic Development Committee.

Besides, the city owns those parcels. Why are you blaming George and Bev Roberts (or Jackie Cherryhomes, for that matter)? It was Danbar Homes and Mississippi Pathway Development Co. (aka NRRC!) that walked away when the market went south. This was the same developer as Karamu West, which also never happened.

The sign currently on the vacant lots is promoting the Artists' Core initiative, which has nothing to do with the Art Lofts project and was only launched just this year.

Get it straight, sheesh!

Anonymous said...

Wow, Anon 5:38--thank you for providing everyone with a little glimpse into the bowels of this particular disinformation campaign.

Anonymous said...

I don't live in NoMi, but it is close to my heart. The only good thing about this story is that is shows a few whackjobs are busy in NoMi and not my town. I count my blessings that Big Al and Jerry are geographically contained

Johnny Northside said...

To Anonymous at 5:38.

It was "bout?"

You amuse me!

veg*nation said...

What's really sad about conspiracy theories like the one that anonymous 5:38 is promoting, is that they prevent the community from making informed choices about the direction of the neighborhood. It's healthy for neighbors to disagree, and to have honest debate about possible directions for the neighborhood, and the best way to get there. What's demoralizing is when community choices are made based on Orwellian-caliber misinformation. Where is this stuff coming from? Focusing too much on this question is likely to lead to competing conspiracy theories, but ignoring it isn't an option either.

Jordan Neighbor said...

JNS, don't you mean

"you muse me!"

MikeT said...

As somebody who spent a great deal of time working with W.H.O. in the beginning, I'd like to follow up with just a few thoughts;

First of all, from my perspective, this article is essentially accurate. There were details I didn't know, but the events I witnessed were conveyed truthfully. I haven't been active with W.H.O. for about 2 years, so some of the more recent stuff I am getting second-hand. It is difficult to get information these days about what they are doing.

The Willard-Homewood Association has gone, sadly, from a very inclusive, neighborhood-type fix-the-potholes group to some sort of secretive political organization of curious, if not nefarious motivations. What started as a great idea has been essentially driven into a ditch, like JACC or NRRC before it, and with the assistance of many of the same characters. What they have accomplished in the past two years is anybody's guess, since meeting agendas, announcements or minutes are essentially non-existent.
It is telling, to say the least, that one of the first committees formed in almost two years does not address crime, neighborhood safety, youth opportunities or assisting the elderly with weather-proofing their homes with stimulus dollars, but to aid a friend of the Chairman's who made a questionable real-estate decision.

One exception to the article I might take is that it seems to lump all the players together. I do not believe this is true. In my encounters with Beverly Propes, albeit brief, she has lived up to the reputation she has with ALL that speak of her as a wise, forthright, honest and trustworthy individual with only the best interests of her community at heart. That she could rise to sole Chairmanship of W.H.O. might be the only way to redeem it's image with many area residents and people who have left W.H.O..

Al McFarlane sent out an e-mail at one juncture years ago asking that, once the organization was up and running, the early players be thanked for their community service, stand aside, and allow new people to step in and help guide W.H.O on to it's next phase. I believe it is well past time that he heed his own advise on this and step aside.

Lastly, it was mentioned in one of the above letters that an Upper Hay organization is in the works.
This is true.
It has become readily apparent that the current boundaries laid out for W.H.O. are unwieldy, and that it is unable to address the needs of such a vast constituency. We simply cannot continue to wait for W.H.O. to get it's act together.
To this end, I believe a letter has gone out to block club leaders inviting them to early discussions on this. If you live in Upper Hay (North of Golden Valley Road and East of Broadway) and would like more information, send inquires to; and I'll forward it on.

Homewood Confidential said...

@Margaret - Willard-Hay has grown over the years. When I researched the neighborhood at the Minneapolis Central Library, I found really old newspaper articles that showed the northern boundary of the neighborhood as Golden Valley Road. The northern part was Willard, and the southern part was Homewood (even though the portion south of Oak Park Ave. isn't technically Homewood). Later on, it was extended by fiat to 23rd Ave N, and later still all the way to West Broadway. I seem to recall reading that the triangular top of present-day W-H was once even considered part of Jordan. Agreed, though, it's the single largest neighborhood in North (by both area & population) and has two very distinct personalities, each with unique issues and needs.

@MikeT - Great point about the ad hoc committee reviewing Lennie Chism's proposal. While we're at it, what business does Kenya McKnight, who isn't even a W-H resident, have being one of just five on that committee?

I agree on the Beverly Propes comments. She doesn't seem to deserve to be lumped in with McFarlane and Staten, and seems quite reasonable and well-intentioned.

jamesdoublenelson said...

I have been a part of WHO since Upper Willard Hay joined with WHO. I think it was too big to function well for the purposes many of us were looking to see fulfilled as a smaller organization. The WHO group had divided up into 4 smaller groups. There was a lead person for each group. I have still kept that group and have our own Yahoo group for Upper Willard Homewood (Hay). It is a very positive, inclusive group. We have a block leader for every block (almost) in this area. The block leaders then share information with their block club residents. It works REAL WELL. We don't focus on political issues (there are plenty of groups for that), we focus on redidents and activities going on here. We have a calendar that is updated, links including this one and Insight News, WHO and NRRC meetings included with an auto reminder sent out a week prior to meetings, and other features. There is NO CENSURSHIP. You may post as you like. We expect folks to use respectful discretion. We have a polling option to vote on matters pertaining to the site rather than having gate keepers. It seems more welcoming to ALL. Please feel free to join with the positive energy of some great people (ALL OF THEM).

God bless,
James Nelson
2611 Upton Ave
to join upperwillardhomewood go to:

or go to Yahoo, groups, search for Upper Willard Homewood and join

Johnny Northside said...

I'm not really able to "correct" somebody's comment post, but Michael T sent me an email and pointed out "upper" Willard Hay is not "East of Broadway," and wishes to make a correction to what he wrote.

Duly noted.

james double nelson said...

Here is the flyer that Mike spoke of about NNO here in Upper Willard Homewood but ALL of WHOare welcome

4th Annual National Night Out
Willard Homewood Handi Stop Picnic

August 4th, 2009 @ 5:00-9:00
Flat space on the Pkwy-
2600 block of Vincent

Mashoni from Handi Stop is throwing us another BBQ
....Burgers, chicken, salads and sodas/drinks...

Bring a blanket/chair and a dessert, side dish or non-meat main dish,
and come have some fun with neighbors
Contact James Nelson at 612-588-9530 or with any questions/comments

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have any solutions to any of the problems - we just have a lot of vacant lots, raggy houses, and no businesses in WHO. I spend all my free time over south eating at outdoor spots, etc. I want to sell and move - just a neighborhood of nothing. We have no direction. If Lennie Chism wants to invest, support him - a fool he might seem but I do appreciate his attempt to move this community from the ice age. I cannot meet any of my friends for dinner in WHO, on West Broadway, oh well at fast food crap. The WHO is a disgusting place to live with not hope of growth. Off to Uptown later Loser WHO residents

Anonymous said...

Willard Homewood hasn't done too well supporting eating establishments when they had them. Lucile's limped along for a long time but was not successful enough to continue when its owner retired. The Urban League building had a coffee shop for a while but it too did not survive. The Urban league got a big contribution from NRP and promised a coffee shop for the neighborhood. Why isn't anyone upset that they have not tried to get that coffee shop going again?

Margaret said...

Anon 5:25, it depends on what you want. If you want a lot of nightlife and commercial areas you are better off in Uptown, or maybe even Nordeast, which has a bar on every corner it seems. It would be nice if Broadway and Plymouth were better places to shop and hang out but I wanted to live in a neighborhood. If I wanted to live over a store or next to a restaurant, I'd live in a condo the Warehouse district. I live 3 blocks from Theo Wirth Park. I can drive to Cub.

Anonymous said...

Well, Anon 5:25 certainly seems typical of someone who would support Uncle Lennies: someone who admittedly (a) hates the neighborhood, (b) isn't informed about Uncle Lennie's, and (c) is completely unconcerned about the fact that if Uncle Lennie's doesn't prosper as promised, then what we will have is not another vacant lot (which we can live with), but another convenience store for gangs to use as their base of operations.

Anonymous said...

Our neighborhood is not attractive to new families. Just those investors looking for cheap rental property. People communicating in gather places would be wonderful. You meet new people in Uptown in gather spots, walking, etc. After 6pm, i work all day nothing to do in North Minneapolis. Thats a problem. Nothing attracts nothing. I will be selling soon, real soon. No social inteaction on the Northside. Maybe JNS can put his blog to good use - attract some business food investors. They have nothing to go into the new buildings on West Broadway. No home grown business ready to move in who will have a good impact on the community. We have no place for them to locate a business in WHO. Oh, well, maybe if they build and invest millions on the corner of Plymouth and Penn. Not gonna happen in my lifetime. Oh wait, we can get another loser nonprofit with a social program like UROC. Oh the excitement.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 8:12: Believe it or not, there isn't anyone "out there" whose job it is to make the neighborhood the way YOU want it. What are the specific actions that you are currently involved in that are helping to achieve the vision you have? Just because someone is already volunteering doesn't mean that they then have the responsibility for contributing additional volunteer hours to do whatever assignments you have for them! Yes, if you truly believe that the neighborhood doesn't meet your needs, and you don't believe that it is possible that it ever will, and you aren't interested in the process of working to make your vision a reality, then by all means find a place to live where you can be happy! I think this neighborhood is appealing to people who value the history here, and also enjoy the process of nourishing and restoring it. That involves keeping away the predatory businesses as much as nourishing the vibrant ones, such as the Bean Scene and Victory 44.

veg*nation said...

RE the Tatta Bunna coffeeshop in the Urban League Building: my understanding (based on my own experiences, as hearsay) is that the main reason that the coffee shop wasn't successful was because it wasn't managed very well--it wouldn't always be open during posted hours, and it often didn't have on hand the ingredients to prepare the items on the menu--so that people stopped thinking of it as a reliable "go-to" coffee shop. however, maybe there were other factors as well, i don't know.

i believe that the owner of Tatta Bunna started it with a small business grant, possibly as part of an entrepreneurship program--someone else probably knows the specifics of that situation.

i totally agree that there should be a coffee shop there! it is on a major intersection, and certainly, if there are going to be people working in the UROC center across the street, they will be a sort of captive coffee audience, and may be enough of an additional market base tip the balance and allow a business to thrive in that location.

what can we do as a community to jump start something?

Anonymous said...

Do gangs hang at the liquor store? Wonder why? What is Mickey's secret? Broadway liqour?
Maybe the stores have better management, better security? What prevents gangs who drink, do drugs, etc. from getting those stores closed. Fact is, no one is investing in North Minneapolis 5th ward except developers. No New businesses on West Broadway yet. So who will occupy those buildings to pay the mortgage? Money follows solutions. This blog has none. I just left Rudys on Lyndale where I sit outside for lunch. Losers keep responding...

Anonymous said...

not to belittle your invaluable contribution of whiling away the afternoon at a bar, but what are some of the other things you are currently doing to enact solutions, Anon 12:59?

you may not realize this, but the community around uptown actually has greater disposable income than the northside does, and some extra radical business models indicate that this disparity could possibly have some effect on what kinds of businesses a community can support! so, i'm afraid that your magical solution of having jns snap his fingers and turning Broadway into the LynLake business district might not be as realistic as you suppose. it might just possibly be that you need to either (a) move away, as promised in an earlier post, or (b) get down off that barstool and contribute to the neighborhood in a productive way.

Anonymous said...

Please for years, after attending a neighborhood meetings of the dysfunctional WHO group with their self serving interest of George, Bev, Jackie, Northside Marketing Task Force, JACC, West Broadway Assoc, NERC combined, none have yet to put a any type of business together in North Minneapolis. Challenge my statements with one business they have created - oh maybe a blogger JNS is making money.

Anonymous said...

wow, i thought that entrepreneurs started businesses, not neighborhood organizations? are you waiting around for one of your neighbors to start your business for you? no wonder you're so bitter! lol

Anonymous said...

To Anon who calls us losers:
Take your snobby-ass to Uptown, it's where YOUR people are. NoMi doesn't need anyone like you around cuz we've got plenty of great stuff goin' on and you're just a bummer, man.

Anonymous said...

Oh, what great stuff you got going on? West Broadway... man I cannot sit outside when it is 100 degrees and have a beer and brat. So, today I spent my evening at Chino Latinos drinking beer eating wings and socializing. Hey lets meet at where in North Minneapolis for a outside beer, good food, and great conversation.... waiting on your invite.

Anonymous said...

Victory 44 or Papa's Pizza.
Both have great food, beers and wines and outdoor seating.

Rather than whining about local businesses, why don't you support them? Did it ever occur to you that you might be part of the problem?

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:42, it sounds like this just isn't the right neighborhood for you at this time in your life. I would suggest taking responsibility for your own happiness and moving somewhere that you feel meets your needs. Not everyone cares about either Rudy's or Chino Latinos (when I lived in Uptown, I walked past these places hundreds of times and never once had the thought "gee, that looks like someplace I'd like to go!" People have different tastes. That's life!

Anonymous said...

As I pointed out, there is nothing in WHO - the locations you mentioned are not. Nor is there anything on West Broadway. The neighborhood groups and political leadership have left WHO a wasteland. The futile criticizing of the WHO structure or players will not result in any growth. We lack the entrepreneurial spirit on the Northside.

Anonymous said...

"The futile criticizing of the WHO structure or players will not result in any growth."

at least you'll still have boozing to fall back on, now that you've seen the light and decided to give up your pointless whining!