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Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011 11:53 am

Founders of new east-side youth center split

Accuse each other of misdeeds

Leannette Black.
An east-side community center still in its infancy has lost the support of one of its founders. She filed a police report alleging battery 10 days before dissolving the organization, apparently without the consent of remaining board members.

Leannette Black, Charles “Muhammad” Strickland, Elmer Perkins and Matt Blakey officially founded the Progressive Youth Foundation and Athletic League in July 2010, when they filed incorporation papers with the secretary of state’s office. From the group’s 2130 Clear Lake Avenue address, Black, Strickland and Perkins ran a boxing program for young men and boys as well as exercise and self-sufficiency programs for women and girls. [See “New east-side center steers youth in the right direction,” Dec. 9, 2010].

On Friday, Dec. 17, Black told police that, following a disagreement about cashing a check, Strickland “grabbed her by the coat with both hands and swung her around, causing her to hit the wall,” according to police reports. Black also told police that Strickland threw her files in the dumpster. Police noted that Black had no visible injuries, and no charges have been pressed.

Strickland says he and Black had recently ended a personal relationship and that the complaint likely stems from their breakup about a month earlier. Black denies any such relationship. Strickland says that he and Black had gotten into an argument that day about the center’s programs, but denies that he assaulted Black or threw away any files. Perkins, who was present during the alleged incident, says no assault occurred. Blakey says that, due to illness, he’s not been a regular presence at the center for months and that he was not aware of the alleged battery incident until informed by Illinois Times last week.

Ten days after the incident, Black dissolved the organization, which has not yet become a 501(c)3 nonprofit, by filing the appropriate paperwork with the secretary of state’s office. In the filing, Black says that the dissolution was authorized by a majority of the board of directors, but remaining members Strickland, Perkins and Blakey all say they were not aware of Black’s apparently singular decision to dissolve the organization. Asked about the false statement, Black says, “I dissolved it because I paid for it.”

On Jan. 4, Strickland filed for incorporation of the “Progressive Youth Foundation and Athletic League International, Inc.” with new board member Nakesha McCoy replacing Black.

Meanwhile, Perkins awaits trial on 2009 charges of aggravated discharge of a firearm, unlawful possession of a weapon and reckless conduct. Blakey, who now works with the Harriet Tubman Susan B. Anthony Center and previously served as director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Springfield and director of the Springfield Urban League’s Head Start program, says he was aware of the charges against Perkins when the Progressive Youth Foundation was first incorporated. He says that he and Perkins agreed that Perkins could work with the center as long as he didn’t work directly with any of the children until the ongoing criminal case is settled. Perkins says he was not aware of any such agreement and has been helping Strickland coach boxing.

Blakey says he was aware that Strickland had a criminal past but he was not familiar with the fact that Strickland was convicted in federal court of 1998 bank fraud charges, for which Strickland has completed his sentence. Blakey says he would have to review the case itself to understand the circumstances before passing judgment. He adds, “I have seen when people have background checks with criminal issues in the past who have changed their lives and done what they have to do to be covered. … I think people deserve a chance.”

He adds that Strickland “legitimately cares about these kids and he’s doing something nobody else is doing 24/7.” The Progressive Youth Foundation continues to operate a boxing program and women’s fitness programs.

Black says she has not returned to the Progressive Youth Foundation since Dec. 17 and that she’s working to start a new organization, Standing Together Enlightening People Unifying Principles [S.T.E.P. U.P.].

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com
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