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'The best man most of us know in Kansas City'
Bil Gilbert
October 06, 1980
So says one of Nick Haywood's People, a coterie of blacks and whites, of rich and poor, who all but idolize the tiny man whose success as a trainer of youthful boxers is partly attributable to his inability to read
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October 06, 1980

'the Best Man Most Of Us Know In Kansas City'

So says one of Nick Haywood's People, a coterie of blacks and whites, of rich and poor, who all but idolize the tiny man whose success as a trainer of youthful boxers is partly attributable to his inability to read

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Having firmly occupied the premises, Haywood put on a public boxing show as a kind of armory-warming celebration. "It was so cold you could see your breath," recalls Collins, who was among the invited crowd of Haywood's friends. "We all had a great time. Nick had on his good derby and a tuxedo and did the announcing. Some of the people helping him were people who have jobs in departments that are supposed to keep things like Haywood's Hall from happening, but that night they were all working for Nick.

"I'm always amazed at how many people he knows. Like Randy Vanet. I worked for Randy in his congressional campaign, so obviously I think he is a good man, but he is very straight and conservative and white. I didn't think he really knew any black folks until I found out he was one of Nick's People. From the outside, it looks like a lot of people are here feeling righteous about helping poor old Nick, but actually it's the other way around. They feel damn lucky that Nick came into their lives."

The world being what it is, Haywood's financial agility—how, for example, he operated an armory which the state, the county and the city could not afford to operate—has stretched a lot of imaginations to the point of bogglement. But not Nick Haywood's.

"Ah got a good job," he says. "Ah work every day, and each week Ah get paid two hundred and sixty-one dollahs. Ah juss put aside a little to pay for light and electric and little things."

James Brown, a CPA who is one of Nick's People, says that as far as he can determine it cost about $2,400, mostly for utilities, to keep Haywood's Hall open during 1979. Brown says he knows Haywood paid at least $2,000 of that out of his own pocket.

"Now that there have been newspaper stories about what he was doing in the armory, I don't think it would be hard for Nick to raise funds through donations," says Brown, "but he is very independent. He is glad to have people work with him, but he likes to use his own money because then he feels free to do things, as he says, just the right way."

Nonetheless, as a consequence of the publicity Haywood was receiving, activities at the armory came to an abrupt halt. Harry Wiggins, a Democratic state senator who represents the district in which the armory is located, says now that finding some use for the armory or at least preventing it from becoming an eyesore had been a long-standing concern of his. So, on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 19, 1980, he decided to make an informal inspection of the property. He says he did not know Haywood and, unlike many other local politicians and bureaucrats, did not know what had been going on in the building for most of the previous year. "I was astounded," says Wiggins. "Indeed it was being used. There were the boxers, the roller skaters, a band, some sort of charm school. Frankly, I did not understand the organization or Nick's explanations. I gathered it was a well-intentioned effort, but obviously it could not continue. There was no authorization for that sort of use, and there were a lot of problems about safety and insurance."

Wiggins had brought a reporter and a photographer from The Kansas City Star with him, and Haywood's Hall was a front-page story in the Sunday papers the next day. The article was hard-hitting enough to make it impossible to maintain the policy (or conspiracy) of benign ignorance under which Haywood's Hall had flourished. Regulatory types were obliged to do their official duty, which was to clear out the armory and make certain it remained safely empty. By February, Haywood and his youngsters were back on the streets.

After the armory was closed, Jackson County executive Dale Baumgardner and Kansas City Mayor Richard Berkley separately had official and sympathetic conversations with Haywood and some of his youths. Both men said later that they thought Haywood's Hall had been, in principle, a very good thing, but in practice a number of rules and restrictions made it impossible for either of them to do anything about resurrecting it. The Fraternal Order of Police said it was investigating the possibility of acquiring the armory and finding in it a place for Haywood's club. After a few weeks of consideration, the cops decided that operating a program such as Haywood's was beyond their resources. Other organizations offered facilities, but Haywood politely turned them down because he thought there might be strings attached that would make it difficult for him to train his people in the manner to which he and they were accustomed. Collins, Vanet, Brown, Buck Buchanan, the old Kansas City Chief lineman who is now active in civic affairs, and Commissioner Pendleton, among others of Haywood's People, began talking about forming a private nonprofit group to reestablish the club in the armory or somewhere.

"There is something very disturbing about this," says Pendleton. "Nick is a unique human resource, like an artist or a mathematical genius. We are lucky to have him. But, officially, he is a problem. The problem, ours not his, is that he doesn't fit into the system of grants, conferences, budgets, briefings, reports—the whole social-work chain of command. The obvious thing is for a few of us to take the time to have Nick explain to us what he can use and then get it for him. Then we have to be smart enough to let him alone. If we want to benefit from Nick Haywood, we have to figure out how to fit into his system, not try to fit him into ours. The question is whether we are creative enough to be of any help, or whether we can even keep up with Nick."

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