Black in Time

‘Mr. Brown’ helped improve lives of Miami’s homeless

 

Special to The Miami Herald

The sound of his bass voice and military manner brings the Head Start children to attention. In unison they say, “Hello, Mr. Brown!” They listen for the precise, positive, warm and friendly response from a man who could be their father or grandfather. He is neither. Instead he is Alfredo K. Brown who retires this month after 18 years as Operations and Center Manager then Deputy Director of the Chapman Partnership Empowering the Homeless in Downtown Miami, adjacent to Overtown. A second state-of-the arts facility is located in Homestead.

Trish Bell, chair of the 62-member Chapman Partnership Board of Directors said, “for nearly two decades, with dedication, Al Brown has helped carry out our mission: Provide comprehensive services to empower our homeless residents to become self-sufficient. Later this month, homeless people, board members and friends will gather to celebrate his well earned retirement.”

Prior to the Chapman Partnership, Al Brown served in New York City as a compliance officer for the U.S. Department of Labor. A retired Army officer with 26 years of service, he served his last eight years in the military as the 18th Airborne Corps Equal Opportunity Officer, before returning to his home state of Florida.

After living in Tampa and Tallahassee, Brown and his wife Linda moved to Miami in 1994 when she accepted a position with the late Pat Pepper, to help with the rebuilding after the devastation of Hurricane Andrew. It was through Pepper, former mayor of West Palm Beach, that he was introduced to the late Alvah Chapman, former CEO of Knight-Ridder Inc. (a former owner of The Miami Herald).

A compassionate and caring man, Chapman was disturbed by the homeless people “who lived under the expressway in conditions that would have been a disgrace to a third-world nation.” He took the concern to community leaders and later chaired Gov. Lawton Chiles’ Commission on Homeless. The Commission’s strategic plan resulted in the development of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust. Working with the Miami-Dade legislative delegation and the Metro-Dade County Commission they were able to ensure the passage and implementation of a one percent food and beverage tax in larger restaurants to fund homeless programs.

The Chapman Partnership was incorporated in 1993, as the Community Partnership for the Homeless, a non-profit organization. I was invited to join the board the following year. Al Brown joined a year later.

Perhaps it was Brown’s military training that caused Alvah Chapman, the founding chairman, to invite him to join the staff. Chapman was trained at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina in Charleston. Although they came from different backgrounds, the two shared core values and a sense of camaraderie produced through teamwork and service to others.

Brown was a welcome addition in the implementation of the comprehensive method to homeless assistance. A holistic approach, through on-site services and partnerships, it is designed to help residents attain self-sufficiency and housing stability. This program goes far beyond just emergency shelter. Under one roof it provides comprehensive case management, health and dental care, day care, job development and training, job placement, permanent housing assistance. Chapman Partnership depends on a variety of public and private funding sources — and the donations of goods and, services, and time by thousands of individuals and organizations every year.

The partnership’s centers now have 800 beds for men, women and children. Since 1996, the centers have had 90,000 admissions, including 18,000 children. The partnership boasts a 62-percent success rate in placing clients into permanent or transitional housing.

Reflecting on his service, Al Brown focuses on the children and their needs. He recognizes Alvah Chapman’s widow, Betty, and Neighborhood Advisory Committee co-chair Annette Eisenberg for their support and friendship.

A person who has worked daily with Al Brown is H. Daniel Vincent, a former board member who became executive director in 2001.

“Al Brown’s voice, speech, eyes and manner has a positive effect on many lives,” Vincent said. “His encouragement to children, adults and families helps many move to the next step in reclaiming their lives. Like the rest of us, Al is not perfect, but his compassion and dream is for the homeless to succeed.”

Alvah Chapman’s legacy and Al Brown’s dream motivate the established infrastructure at the Chapman Partnership to continue and grow stronger. Read some of the success stories, ways to contribute and ways everyone can help. You can begin by planning a tour of the centers to see the work in action by writing to tours@chapmanpartnership.org.

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to djf@bellsouth.net.

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