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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Boys & Girls Club and Walter Brown

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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Boys & Girls Club and Walter Brown

February 15, 2015 - 19:11
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Dear Talk of the Sound,

For the last 7 years Quay Watkins leadership at the Boys & Girls Club has been a farce. An organization that flourished in the 90's and early 00's, a safe place where a kid can come to, has now become a dysfunctional mess. This has only increased in the last 5 months with the firing of the longtime director of the Remington Clubhouse, Walter Brown. Quay Watkins and the Board of Directors, led by President Candance Pinn, are complacent in letting this organization become a shell of what it used to be. Questionable and shady bookkeeping, covering up and burying sexual harassment allegations, and the gross mistreatment of their longtime employees shows how out of touch and misguided this organization has become. A budget bloated by Quay Watkins $103,000 salary has cost each clubhouse necessary staff members and basic equipment to even run the program successfully anymore. An organization once flush with cash is now hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. The reason for this is Quay Watkins blowing off and disrespecting everyone who had a meaningful relationship with the club. Whether it be the Old Timers Club or David and Mark McCabe, or even former Club employees like Gwen Clayton. Attached is a letter she wrote to Quay Watkins, Candance Pinn, Eric Woodlin and other club employees showing her outrage and disdain for the way they handled the Walter Brown firing. They fired him without giving him a reason or trying to find a way to fix what was wrong. Quay Watkins lack of leadership is to blame, as well as the disrespectful and incompetent Operations Director Eric Woodlin. Maybe when your making $103,000 a year you think its OK to come into work at 12 in the afternoon and leave by 4. Whats even worse is that their are people (the board) who could intervene and put a stop to what has been happening but they have turned a blind eye to what has been happening.

I urge you to read this letter that Gwen Clayton wrote. It says a lot about the current leadership and direction of the Boys & Girls Club and hope you might share this with your readers who might have once been affiliated with the Club to now see the dysfunctional mess it is.

Signed 

RemingtonRebel

===================

From: Gwen Clayton

Sent: Tuesday, October 21, 2014 1:52PM

To: [email protected]; [email protected]

Subject: Walter & The Bamboo Plant...this is long and unedited ... time is no friend of mine!

Dear BGCNR

Monday, as I was driving down Lincoln ... at the very last second, decided to do a quick stop into in the doors of Boys & Girls Club. Not too long ago, I had a long involved conversation about the value of the Boys & Girls Club with Denzel Washington who knew our club well and played basketball right there in the gym and the parking lot. He stopped in and had dinner with us at Alvin & Friends. We spoke candidly about the pillars people who shaped his values ... most of his longtime friendships forged right there on the basketball court in the middle of lay ups and in the homework room. He spoke about the musicians we knew together Rocky Middleton who plays beautiful Jazz in Alvin & Friends on Saturday nights ... also a club kid. Denzel actually remembered our dearly departed Glaskow Lee saying that he earned his stock at the pool table because Glaskow was known for teaching him how to break down the moves one ball at a time. A technique he would use later to memorize a play he would perform in at the Boys & Girls Club at age 12.

Anyway yesterday I was warmly greeted by one of our classics: Wellington, Aka Jr. I've known Junior since he was a little guy in 3'd grade part of Walters Remington Flyers. It was nearly 4:15 and the typical fullness of the club was different. Maybe the kids were in the homework room? I could see sunny smiles despite the cold room, lovely, and full of enthusiasm, especially Marianne (a BGC favorite.... and a gracious woman I had the privilege of meeting through Tina many years back). I was happy to see her part of the BGC team. Great addition certainly. She was excited to show me the teen lounge. The newly but partially painted walls, furniture, a very new pool table, a TV. A great idea beaming with possibilities.

For as long as I've been coming into Remington since 2003 with my children, I cannot possibly count the numerous community celebrations I've enjoyed over the years in that room .... birthday parties, men's club events honoring someone special, and the Womens groups ... Jan Lightens Teen community events, Poetry Coffee House, Volunteer awards luncheons, Be Great annual gig, & the infamous Haunted House (special kudos to Tina who really knows how to stage any event), Smart Girls Retreat room ... the list is too long. The club has always needed some work, but nothing to get in the way of celebrations ... milestone events, memories.

Marianne is definitely moving the Teens in the right direction with community service, keystone, leadership events. As I was leaving I was met with barrage of "Hi Mrs. Clayton" ... oh my goodness, the group I left are now the teens. I met the new Unit Director, and a charming articulate young man, Aaron. And of course Jeff with his bear hug, always knows just how to warm up any room. Tina was in full throttle getting Glaskows room in shape. Great people! Good to see the see the wheels in motion.

I went to bed troubled though. I guess with the Walter being whisked out of the way, I was expecting to see something different. Renovations for Remington are still pending. Nothing different. That standard paint job done by non professionals. Rooms & Ceilings the same as they have always been. The same heat issue is still the elephant in the room. The kids deal with it by keeping their coats on. Fortunately, laughter of kids and activity keep the spark and warmth in the room. What do they care? They just want to be safe, be happy, have a good snack, make friends, and enjoy good people around them. Yet still, City Council...city hall. .. c'mon really? It's not Ok to have kids in a cold room. With that thought, that horrid anxiety feeling started to swell. .. because I thought maybe I'm overreacting. I'm missing something! Then it hit me. Yep there is something missing. Courage! My own courage to express the rage that is has been welling up within me since Walter Brown was cut down from Unit Director positon ..... A position that I might add he was overqualified for! A position that did our club, our kids, our community a huge favor!!! A gift really. To see him so flippantly Tossed aside like the discarded wrapping, I have to tell you has changed my LOVE for the club! Once again, missed opportunities, gems treated as if they insignificant. I've poked around to from the "top ... down." And it's while it's not my business, the community is. I must tell you I steered clear of all those community meetings for fear that I wouldn't contain my rage over this .... I’m sure you have cloaked yourself with reason and perspective.

But I will share that since I was very much like these children coming into the club: Latch key kids, I will tell you that you what's lights up the room is not that crappy fluorescent cheap lighting .... or even a fresh coat of paint....its' people. Leaders, people who greet you at the door. People who believe in and you give you opportunities to fail, dust off, and get back up again. People who listen when no else will... who are forgiving yet set high standards. People who don't have fancy clothes, fancy cars, or fancy words but people who connect and communicate because you matter. People who notice you have asthma and are given a special place to put their inhaler ... People who remind you that you left last yesterday's sweater and hung it up for you to bring it home ... People who put the put up your picture because you belong ... People who know something is wrong just by the way you wouldn't look them in the eye. People who stop you from that bag of chips and hand you and an apple and a turkey sandwich instead. People who create scavenger hunts and get private donors to contribute the prizes on a rainy Friday night. People who go to the Principals office to check on a fight that the parents didn't know about because their phone was cut ... People who know parents stink 90% of the time ... not because they don't love you but because they are broken and it's not your fault ... People who speak gently at a time when there is yelling so that the pattern may be broken sometime soon ... People who nurture a girl who is having trouble at home into become an amazing candidate for Youth of the Year! People who find a way for the entire group to go to nationals in Florida even if means putting you in an event like the triathlon because you just might make it barely with 2 points .... People who want to bring up the Black male that our culture takes a whippen for every day God lets' us breathe .... Our black male that is clearly an endangered species .... People who lead with compassion and purpose ... People who choose to hand write the memo and thank you letters with happy faces on them .... and may never touch laptops ... People who dedicate themselves to wellness of the collective whether you like it or not ..... People like Walter Brown!

And yes People like Walter may make mistakes, but the bigger picture here is that THEY MAKE AN IMPACT. They make an impact 10 times that of all of us put together as we forge behind the desk ... children later in life will remember people like Walter Brown. They won't remember you or me ... but they will remember their failures and triumphs and who helped them get there.

Since I heard that Walter was no longer at Remington the club, the kids, and community, donors, BGC alums, and countless others, must feel the light go out in a very dark tunnel. Again, with age, comes a no nonsense mind set: Time, people, and opportunities are not to be squandered. When I left BGC in May 2013, Remington was on the rise for something bigger ... it was a bamboo plant. Roots were catching hold underneath. Walter was building a kind of undefined nutrition for the club ... carefully watering seeds within the community. Staying true to the authenticity of the club. Having the kids best interest. Not just the club house kids, but the kids who thought they were too big to be in the club. He asked for later hours to separate the groups ... he enlisted help to volunteer since budget issues . But he was met with resistance .... He was criticized for only catering to track kids (which are legitimate club kids) ... But as they neared competition you are darn straight: eye of the tiger has taken countless kids into a place that no one had the patience or resouces too ... Patience and the laundry list probably growing ... I saw him first hand try to tackle too much. He needed help ... he's not good at asking for help ... maybe it comes with a price. But as He's never hosted tryouts for the best and brightest. .. he's never kicked a child off the team for being slow or struggling ... he may have had it out with a parent. Walter and I have had shouting matches that have ended with, so I'll see you at the van at 7:15AM. He called me out for having my daughter overscheduled ... l didn't like hearing it...how dare he! But hey, when I kicked my ego to the curb .. HE was 100% right. Walter created a long list of goals that he generously shared with me written on his yellow notepad with a meticulous game plan. It was ambitious with a very "high jump bar" as I often said. But it was a plan. And he set out with very little support and resources. Walter worked beyond his pay scale and hours with not so much ever a grumble. He worked full time on a part time, cut down salary. He was committed and he quickly enrolled an army to help along the way.

Front and center he went around every corner of the club closets, and storage areas and cleared out clutter from years gone by. The homework Power Hour was his number 1 priority from the start. Walter had inherited a lean staff, and knew their skill set and created a game plan working to their strength. Science, English and Math were not their strength so he enlisted the help of his longtime friend, colleague, a teacher to tutor all the kids. With the help of interns, and another teacher who volunteered, the homework room was busy rotating 25 kids per shift from 3-5 PM. And I can assure you they did more than just nightly homework. They retaught concepts and worked individually with the struggling learners. I'm certain her efforts were "the game changing" moment for many children

So just to roll call the events going on:

  • Because Walter is a licensed social worker, we were able to retain a very brighty CNR graduate student who committed 3 days a week to the club kids with a structured activity that we sat down to develop over 19 sessions and then recycle it again around the SMART Moves curriculum. She won an award around that chartered list of work.
  • Money Matters was a weekly workshop held in partnership with various community speakers and Walter following the BGC curriculum.
  • Lincoln Grow community garden had a designated BGC plot of which the kids spent time puttering and gardening with much to show for the efforts as the warm months came.
  • Cooking ... a team came like clockwork and helped create an amazing experience weekly with home cooked meals creating confidence in healthy food.
  • Organized games in the gym were always happening after the homework.
  • Etiquette, modeling, and dance were party of the weekly lineup under the eyes of lnga Watkins. Awesome job too! Special gift from Kelly Johnson.
  • Music program taught by Dontburn ... another club kid, and youth of the year who always gives back because that is how the club thrives. It's not the lean mean staff, that's only one component... Volunteers make that club go round! Walter spent a lot of time steering this group.
  • Basketball programs were in motion with all the kids striving to earn their spot on a team ... teams sports are critical.
  • And then the signature track program that has hit 27 years of history. NO program like this with a coach like Walter again with no pay has ever happened. That's another topic in its entirety .... I'm sure I don't have to spell out his value on that .. the thousands of kids who learned more positive life lessons under th is one adult than all of their family, teachers combined ..... And I might remind you some of you because I often felt like the athletes were separated like a church and state issue ... Those athletes were true blue club kids dedicating countless hours to be something special because they aspired to do what their leader Coach Brown said they could do. The could be winners! They could work as a team, travel as a team ... and this I will tell you this credo carried the spirit of all 3 of my children for many years. They were not traditional club kids but we joined this club and dedicated ourselves in a way that was probably overlooked and tossed aside like wrapping too ... but we would not be part of this club were it not for Walter Brown! Nor would a long laundry list of other kids we encouraged
  • Community spirited events that brought together the Gat~ering of Men, honed the mens club mission, the Red Hat ladies etc. NAACP Back to school back pack program.
  • The list goes one ... steady ... not always easy.

I understand there were some polarizing moments. Turf control struggles, and who knows what else going on. I hear that Walter can be tough to work with ... though I will say I NEVER once experienced that. He was always professional, on time (early often), and prepared. Always!

What I don't think you know is that WE and others of similar heart and interest collaborated and brainstormed on things bigger than the Boys & Girls Club daily agenda.

Why? You might ask? Why would you do more than just run an afterschool program? Because Remington is different...just like our children are different. Different goals are just sometimes necessary. Remington has been a pillar, a safe haven for kids, a place for volunteers to make a difference, a gym to grow your character, basketball is not just about the game, a safe place to form friendship's .... Choir you know!

And so Walter had leadership forums pulling Teens from the community to the table of conversation of adversity, challenges, concerns for the future ... in partnership with the NAACP, collaborations with the Kelly Johnson and the Youth Bureau, professors from Hunter college and church leaders ..... the ecosystem was rebuilding itself again, turning

over new opportunities ... Men were brought back to table of thought, leadership, back into the conversation of contribution, with protection of our young men became front and center. Basketball tournaments in city park with the funding from Steve Horton and Basketball programs with Crabby, Sean Oliver ... the list is long, and it was good. This positive activity keeps Lincoln Park safe. It was positive engagement, eyes looking out for one another. Girls around the way were being taught how to be "young ladies" .... Wellness days were in the making to have yoga in the park, Kids health faire with Montefiore were under way ....

Lincoln Park needs this ecosystem to stay safe .... With our community men raising the bar of expectation ... Oh MY Goodness! What just happened here?! Maybe you heard from some parents issues. Issues that should have been brought to him with relevance. Couldn't you have all worked with Walter, shared this, and gave him staff that could support him better?

Walter had a lot on his plate ... losing Glaskow was another tough feat for him. Yet he partnerd with Remington past leaders, Julio and Kelly and they took time to rally a community to pay reverence for this man who lacked support and so many other things but was another silent pillar in Remington for too many years to count. This act of kindness and reverence was shared with the kids, community people ... wow ... certainly nothing to shake off like water. Kids remember these moments and will help build their values for their love ones. Let me share this again ... Walter cares about people ... especially children. Perhaps with His mother illness with so little time for himself.. .. I can only surmise that Walter became head strong to just make things happen. He had little patience for broken promises of meetings, missed communication with the parents .... so if that makes him tough ... and uncooperative ... let him know. This man is tough, but not unreasonable.

The BIGGER picture of positives looms over anything else. But we only hear the squeaky wheels. We don't get to hear all the good things .... all the good things the ecosystem, the surrounding community and administration took for granted. Nope we heard only the pokes, the digs. Oh My goodness. Wow. I will say, with 100% conviction, Walter was calm, listening, sharing, patient, and stayed his course while I was there.

I'm sure I'm missing some critical things here. But I think you are too. Over the years, people have showed me their photos and their affiliation with Remington. The club held meaning ... while they may have lacked resources to dig deep and offer funds, their heart in the matter was clear. They wanted their children to experience life as an athletes with Walter. They wanted their children to know the secret sauce of success: being your word, show up early to be on time, honor your body, take care of yourself, be someone others can count on, be your best even if you are not. the best.

But what hurts here for me ... it cuts real deep: It's this lack of compassion, and responsibility to straighten this out before it became this colossal community issue. All blame falls on Walter on this? Really? Countless supporters of the club for years who have written checks have come into my establishment with angry eyes pushing the hard questions to me "What is going on at the club? What's going on there? A doctor friend who continually supports the mens club and their charities of the choice exclaimed "If they will push aside a man like Walter Brown ... the Martin Luther King recipient of 2013, what next?

I'm sorry Walter deserved better!

The decision to move Walter, put all of his hard work in motion to a screeching halt. I'm sure there is all kind of spin to justify the decision ... But with this ecosystem all around Lincoln Park ... you stunted its growth. You took positive Black MALE leader out of the picture .... just like the rest of the world is doing. You saw his stubbornness as a deal breaker instead of a moment to see what you could do to work this to the club and community advantage. You cut down a tree in the rain forest and if you don't see that ... you don't' see the trees in the forest. Pushing Walter aside meant pushing all those he was bringing aboard over board ... creating a wide divide for they walked beside this man. Countless supporters him for 27 years as track coach ... Coach Brown who believed in community, service and taught it to his athletes. We're talking solid supporters from the Stellar leadership of board presidents that go back to Gus Mascaro ... on down to the security guard that grew up with Walter who reached in his pocket and "How much you need Walter?" Are you telling me this legacy of his track kids is going out like a blow to candle flame ... poof gone? Really? This can't happen.

You probably know that Walter grew up in New Rochelle, in this very BGC club, putting his time in since he was a child, and probably very much like a bamboo plant... not so tall and fabulous starting out.. but steadying himself to grow to help and serve others .... obtained a Masters degree, and then devoted his entire life ... in ways that we WILL NEVER really know. Who else within the Lincoln park community will commit like him? I challenge you to find him! He doesn't take well in the spotlight, always putting many before it ... but I believe Walter Brown is an unsung hero ... don't take my word ... check around to silent voices of children now grown. (I've had grown young share with me that Walter saved their lives ... put the hard questions to them when no one else would, collected coats when their parents couldn't and only to do it all over again when the parents sold the coats for drugs ... yes it's like that).

My roar: HOW COULD you LOCK HIM OUT OF the doors of the very place he was committed to building without so, much as real sit down? I'm guessing there was some bitterness before it got to that point.

I am against any polarization of any kind ... it's unproductive and damaging ... I care about YOU, the club, and more importantly ... the kids. But this issue keeps me up at night. This move was a derailed a train and caused a wreck among the community. And most of all though putting that behind .... This is the way it comes off: "a man with a heart of gold was blindsided after taking 31 athletes to Florida for the annual Track Championships to win the gold." Ouch. Walter, his team, his supporters, .... deserved better! You cannot convince me otherwise.

I still don't understand if you needed an agenda change, bring this new director to support him. Good idea! Carry on with this ... and it would have been a welcome support mechanism .... Candace you are always so gracious explaining things ... and Yes this would have given him more time to forge more positive relationships ... take the administrative stress off of him and let him lead the groups.

I will say I fault all 3 arms (Walter, Management, and the Board) on this for lack of collaboration, sorting and sifting to the strength of the team .... in the name of the kids. There have been so many changes in the last 6 years ...And while change did need to come, the mandate might have put a band aid for a light cut ... but the wound is deep. Julio, Tina, and now Walter ...... their lives in so many ways have been contorted to fit the needs of the club. Staff people who have done great things over the year ... I fully understand your position. It's complicated on so many levels. Essentially, You have a toughest job of all. Planning meetings with your team and finding strong ad min people to keep things organized, with a clear game plan, mandating simple procedures ... with the diligent follow up ... Eric is great for that.

From my experience, uncompromised collaborations and strategy inclusiveness will yield you the greatest results with your team. All those National and Regional BGC training meetings hit us over the head with that message. A leader who means something to the people is always a great start ... I believe Walter is still that man. 

I'd like to believe mistakes are forgiving .... if you can come to the table and acknowledge them and not judge them too harshly. Differences can be set aside to work towards a mission. Funny thing even with all of this going on, you all want the same thing!: A club that is a great place to be! A club where positive futures start here! Is there something that can still be done for this? I see opportunity slipping away ... .footprints in the sand that should never be washed away. Please, I'm with you on this ..... think about a healing conversation. Leave egos, agendas, politics, off the table. A community of kids is at stake here. Remington Flyers bought some notoriety, some class to our runners, a platform or goals later, life skills that are too long to write about…

Voices, a collaborative sit down at the table ... even if it's small, ... we're talking about people here, not JOBS ... We're talking about damage control to people who have dedicated their entire world to children. Walter is an anomaly. New Rochelle will not see another one like him! You may have hit a bump in the road with him .... and I have not connected with him in a while so maybe he's fine. But I don't see how?

The climate in Lincoln park is changing for worse again. It was on a climb with the protectors no longer looking out. The paper said a man was shot in Lincoln park? Word is he was not man, he was a student at NRHS. He was a club kid. He was senior interested in college. To be part of something .... and now he is critically injured just because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A Drive by is what I hear.

In our local park. In our park with little city protection. NO security cameras. I believe Walter and the community that was behind him were slowly building protectors for the Lincoln park kids with the kids that were growing into teens, hence young men, hence fathers. Providers. Walter was in the conversation for change, growth, and positive behavior. He needed more support, more guidelines maybe, and more feedback from top of the food chain.

I'll leave it at that. Forgive my rant but these are my true blue feelings ... that I kept talking myself down from sending. Now I can probably sleep knowing that I sent my perspective ... This is not about pointing fingers .... what would be right thing her ... another forgiving, conversation without my rage ... and others who are so passionate about this organization ... but a thought for taking care of a very broken, complicated ecosystem of children who will become the next Walter Brown, the McCabe men, Denzel Washington, Rocky Middleton, Tom Zhang, the list should and could be long ... we have some rising stars. We need Remington to come back from the dark place ... and bring light...warm light back into this place or kids.

I wish I could say this too shall pass ... but not in the way that it could. The community has to know you were only thinking of positive change. You didn't set out to cause this dissention ... You were trying to take care of the issues .... I understand that.

 

Gwen

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