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100 Years of Resilience: Phyllis Wheatley's Northside Legacy

Phyllis Wheatley Community Center on Aldrich Avenue, Minneapolis
The Phyllis Wheatley House on Aldrich Avenue, where the agency operated from 1929 until the building was demolished in the 1960s to make way for I-94.

2023 will soon come to a close, and as we begin the new year, Phyllis Wheatley Community Center will embark upon its centennial year — one of resilience, dedication, and of service to African Americans and others in North Minneapolis.

A century of service, and a vision for the future

As we look forward to our 100th birthday on October 17, 2024, we are also looking back — at a century of progress mixed with discouragement, hope mixed with frustration, and the evolution of a community, for whom adversity and disenfranchisement is the norm, but perseverance, strength, and unity are the enduring response.

Over the past 100 years, the story of Phyllis Wheatley mirrors that of North Minneapolis itself. From the challenges of racial segregation to the triumphs of the Civil Rights Movement and the unrest and violence released by the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the center has been an integral part of the community's narrative — and a story of resilience, unity, and the relentless pursuit of equity and equality.

Originally a part of the settlement house movement, Phyllis Wheatley was founded on the same principles upon which we continue to do our work today. Our vision is simple: we wish to see a world where everyone, regardless of background, has access to quality education, equitable opportunities, and the tools to reach their full potential. We are committed to building a society where diversity is celebrated, individuals are empowered, and every voice is heard and respected.

Gertrude Brown, Phyllis Wheatley Community Center's first executive director ca. 1929
W. Gertrude Brown, Phyllis Wheatley House's first executive director, surrounded by Northside youth.

The founders of the organization — the women of the WCA — decided that Minneapolis needed a place where African Americans coming to the city could find a warm bed, food to eat, and the company of community, during a time when racism was at its peak and being Black in America was, in itself, a risk. The Phyllis Wheatley House provided young women attending college at the University of Minnesota a place to live, musicians and authors traveling to Minneapolis a place to stay, and the community a gathering space where they were welcome and safe.

The center quickly became a hub for social services, offering educational programs, job placement assistance, community organizing initiatives, and a place for the burgeoning African American community in North Minneapolis to gather, find others who identified with them, and build bonds that have carried on through generations. Over the decades, the Northside community has faced racial segregation and social upheaval, marginalization, and oppression from the outside world, in many different forms. Yet, today, the Northside remains a cohesive, caring community, in the truest sense of the word.

The legacy of the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center is a living testament to the idea that a community can shape its destiny when it stands united. As we celebrate the centennial milestone, let us not only look back with pride but also forward with determination. The story continues—a story of a community that, for a century, has been defined not by its challenges, but by its unwavering commitment to overcoming them. The next chapter awaits, and the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center stands ready to lead the way into the future—a future built on the foundations of resilience, unity, and the enduring pursuit of a better tomorrow.

As we reflect on the past, we acknowledge the struggles faced by the generations before us, recognizing that the road to progress is not always linear. It is marked by twists and turns, setbacks, and victories, all contributing to the collective story that defines us as a community. The legacy forged by the center is one of empowerment—a legacy that propels us forward into the next century. The seeds of education planted in the early years have blossomed into a forest of knowledge. The bonds of community forged in times of adversity have grown into a network of support and solidarity.

Camp Katharine Parsons Restoration Project of Phyllis Wheatley Community Center
Camp Katharine Parsons, one of America's few Black-owned, Black-serving youth camps still in existence, is on track to reopen in 2026.

Today, Phyllis Wheatley continues to offer the most needed services in. our community, like our Mary T. Wellcome Child Development Center, which ensures that all children, regardless of family income, have a fair shot in school and in life. Next year, we will kick off our campaign to raise capital to reopen our 70-year-old Camp Katharine Parsons, a youth camp that gives urban youth the chance to see the greater world, find inspiration to work toward attainable, yet lofty goals. Through our violence recovery and family reunification programs we are building stronger families and a stronger community for the next generation and beyond.

This Giving Tuesday, consider making a donation to Phyllis Wheatley Community Center. Your donations will support the advancement of equitable opportunities and equality for African Americans in Minneapolis. Your support is part of a collective effort that transcends individual contributions, creating a ripple effect of positive change that will reverberate through generations.

To make a donation through your donor-advised fund or individual retirement plan, please tell your financial advisor to send a check to

Phyllis Wheatley Community Center

attn: Katy Nelson, Senior Director, Development & Communications

1301 10th Avenue N. Minneapolis, MN 55411

EIN #41-0706132

As always, we thank you for your support of our work, and our beloved Northside community. We wish you all the happiest of holiday seasons and hope to see you in 2024, as we celebrate our 100th year and recommit ourselves to service to the people we exist to serve.


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