If a prominent local nonprofit has its way, Dixwell youths will soon have a community center of their own once again.
The Community Action Agency has been meeting recently with the board of the now-defunct Dixwell Community House, Inc., popularly known as the Q House, to discuss reopening the historic center and restarting its programs. The Q House, which was founded in 1924 by leading members of the Dixwell community, closed over a year ago after a steady erosion of programs and services over a period of about two years. Amid claims of mismanagement, the Q House was unable to continue to pay for the overhead costs associated with its building at 98 Dixwell Ave.
Community Action Agency CEO Darnell Goldson said it is crucial to the city and its black community that the Q House be reopened.
“It was a resource for the community that is no longer there,” Goldson said. “It’s a place that African-Americans started — it’s part of our heritage, so for our generation to allow it to die would be a major blow to our community, to our heritage.”
The remaining members of the current Q House Board of Directors will resign, but not until the center is reopened, Ward 3 Alderwoman Jacqueline James said.
“They would be willing to step down once the Community Action Agency has reestablished the Q House board, programs and services,” she said. “In the meantime, they have to stay in place for the Q House to legally remain an entity.”
Although CAA had originally wanted to become a tenant of the house when it reopened, it has agreed to drop that goal to smooth negotiations, Goldson said. In addition, Goldson said the agency had put aside $60,000 to jump-start the Q House’s rebirth. At present, the estimated cost of reopening the House and restarting its programs would be upwards of $200,000, Goldson said.
The great interest in rescuing the Q House is connected with its long history. Dixwell, which was considered “the Harlem of New Haven” in the 1920s, has one of the largest populations of blacks in the city. Generations of Dixwell children spent their afternoons at the Q House while their parents worked, and annual alumni dinner-dances used to attract more than 800 attendees from all over the country.
Ward 22 Alderman the Rev. Drew King said he recognizes what the Q House represented.
“There is a great history behind the Q House,” King said. “Basically how the Q House originally started was as a safe environment for children of color to have a place to go. It was a community room, a place for people to gather for one common cause to strengthen the community.”
In fact, it was not until the last several years that the Q House began to run into trouble. Financial problems were compounded by a sexual harassment lawsuit in March 2000 and a $63,000 cut — nearly 10 percent of the budget — in United Way funding in October of the same year.
But James said failures in fiscal responsibility doomed the Q House.
“It was bad management,” James said. “I think realistically most people know what happened with the Q House. We can point fingers at different places, but in the end we know what happened.”
Rev. King said he had talked with Yale Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand about the future of the Q House, and that he did not see any reason to exclude Yale from possible reopening efforts. But King said much of the responsibility for the center’s future lies with the Dixwell community itself.
James, meanwhile, expressed an interest in strategic partnerships with local entities like Yale, Gateway Community College and local businesses to help revive the House.
“If any of these entities care about the community they will step up to the plate and be of some assistance,” James said.
Goldson said he and the Community Action Agency were dedicated to saving the Q House.
“We’re not going to give up until the building crumbles to the ground, and if it does we’ll try to build it up again,” Goldson said. “But if the African-American community can’t save the Q House, then it’s not worth saving.”