Andre "Debonaire" McNeal emceed comedy shows and concerts. He hosted business mixers. And through his Doorstep Foundation, he mentored young people.
Whatever he did, McNeal was a catalyst — and a particularly well-known one in the Twin Cities Black community.
"He was known for bringing the community together," said his wife, Zakia Robbins-McNeal. "He avidly called himself a 'dot connector.'"
McNeal, 53, died Nov. 5 in a car crash in Minneapolis.
He was born and raised in Chicago, migrating to Minneapolis in the 1990s. "He wanted to start a new life," Robbins-McNeal said.
Andre told an interviewer in 2013 that he was dealing drugs and throwing parties in Chicago. His course changed when his late god-uncle invited him to Minnesota, according to the article by Twin Cities journalist Harry Colbert Jr.
McNeal took jobs at a Foot Locker and a Pillsbury factory. He eventually won a gig emceeing a comedy show at the Riverview Supper Club, a popular Black-owned venue in north Minneapolis. He was invited to appear on KMOJ radio, settling into a regular show.
His career as entertainment curator — be it comedy, R&B or gospel — took off.
"Once he started promoting, he never stopped," Robbins-McNeal said. "He was a go-to person for entertainment here."
South Beach, Glam Slam, Gabby's, Caribbean Splash and a slew of other local clubs and theaters hosted McNeal's shows.
McNeal needed a moniker when he started doing comedy shows, Robbins-McNeal said. He chose the name of a boys' club he belonged to back in Chicago — Debonair — tweaking it with the extra "e."
So he was known by some as the King of Clubs, and by everybody as "Debonaire."
McNeal also organized regular mixers under the First Fridays banner, a national brand. Held at hotels, the events created a network for Black professionals to socialize and seek job opportunities. McNeal facilitated connections with local companies.
His Doorstep Foundation mentors and teaches leadership skills to minority youth.
"They need to see people who look like them thriving in life," said Robbins-McNeal, an Anoka Technical College professor and the foundation's chief operating officer.
The foundation has served more than 200 young men and women since it was founded in 2016. While the couple funded Doorstep at first, it now has contracts with several public entities, including schools, juvenile detention centers and county child services.
"That organization was instrumental in helping young people, grounding them to excel in society," said Laverne McCartney Knighton, area development director for the United Negro College Fund and a longtime friend of McNeal. "He was the only male figure in some of their lives."
Whether a kid needed tutoring or a new coat, McNeal would line it up, she said. "If he saw a need, he didn't hesitate to let the community know that 'a village is needed' — those were his words. He was a very good soul of a man, a true builder."
McNeal suffered a severe blow in 2021 when his daughter, Anaja Griffin-McNeal, was murdered by her boyfriend in Houston, Texas, during her first year of college there. Motivated by her death, McNeal began teaching young men in Minneapolis about anger management.
"It helped drive him to do more than he was already doing," Robbins-McNeal said.
Along with his wife, McNeal's survivors include sons Darius McNeal, Jachai McNeal and Andrew McNeal. A public visitation is set for 1 to 6 p.m. Nov. 17 at Shiloh Temple, 1201 West Broadway in Minneapolis.