Brianna Miller, executive director of the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center, has been forced out of her job less than four months after the governing board hired her, she said Monday.
The nonprofit community center, a storied institution in north Minneapolis for nearly a century, has faced financial difficulties in recent months that resulted in a handful of layoffs.
“I did resign and they did accept my resignation. I didn’t want to. It was clear my vision and the board’s vision weren’t congruent,” said Miller, who declined to elaborate.
She confirmed there had been layoffs of employees in the early childhood program and the Stronger Together Women’s Program, which helps victims of crime such as domestic abuse.
Miller said she inherited problems that included a decline in funding, and other internal issues.
“The funding priorities have changed with funders. They do it based on the interest of the donors,” Miller said. “Recently we were notified by the state of Minnesota that due to three years of noncompliance in the Stronger Together Women’s Program, they were no longer going to fund us.”
Doug Neville, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, confirmed that the state declined to renew a grant of nearly $110,000 on Oct. 1 because the center didn’t meet grant standards. Neville said state officials had worked with the center for the past two years and had met several times with the director and board chair to bring them into compliance with financial reporting requirements, but had yet to get the necessary documentation.
Miller acknowledged she was guilty of some missteps. “It’s not all one-sided. I made some mistakes along the way too. It’s a learning process. It just didn’t work out,” she said.
Board Chairman Byron Jackson did not return a call for comment.
Miller worked as a consultant for the center starting in April 2015, according to the center website. The board appointed her interim director in January 2017 and give her the job permanently in July.
Financial support for the community center, including grants and membership, has declined from $1.62 million in 2010 to $1.16 million in 2015, leaving the nonprofit $113,000 in the red for that year, according to its tax filings. Revenue for 11 months in 2016, according to a report, was $995,000.
The center opened in 1924 as a settlement house. It was the first agency in the Twin Cities dedicated to meeting the human service needs of the growing black community.
According to a history of the center on its website, it “was quite literally the center of the north Minneapolis African-American community before World War II. The house provided education, recreation, day care, temporary housing and public meeting space.”
Services today include an early childhood center, family programing and a youth program designed to strengthen social and academic skills.
Wheatley was taken to Boston as a slave in the 1700s and became the first published black female poet in the United States.