By Heather Richardson
Johnson City’s Langston Centre opened in November of 2019 following years of hard work and dedication from the community. The goal was to promote community engagement by providing a multicultural hub for arts, education, and leadership programming.
However, after only a few months of being open, the doors of the former African-American school were once again closed due to COVID-19. Adam Dickson, the centre’s supervisor, described the COVID closure as a “gut punch,” noting that not only was momentum stalled, but the staff’s energy had to be pulled away from Langston and dispersed among other needs within the city during the closure.
“It was a very hurtful time for those involved in the Centre,” Dickson said.
Like many offices and facilities, the staff at Langston transitioned to virtual programming. Dickson said that although the transition was unexpected, the Centre was able to garner a national audience for their classes and discussions.
Now that most COVID restrictions are no longer in place, the Centre is refocusing its attention on the local community. While Langston’s programming continues to evolve to best meet the needs of the community, Dickson said the Centre’s vision will always focus on three things: respecting the past, recognizing the present, and realizing the future.
One way Langston is currently working to respect the past is by hosting tours of the building. Dickson said the tours, titled “The Langston Experience” aim to “tell the history of legal segregation and how the school and church became anchors of the black community.”
Langston also holds a STEAM-focused after school program which serves to recognize and address the needs of the present.
“The child poverty rate for Johnson City is 20 percent,” Dickson said. “But for the census tract where Langston is located, the rate is 54 percent.”
The after-school program aims to address this disparity so that children in the area will have a better chance at creating successful careers.
Additionally, the Centre currently holds weekly Zumba and ESL classes as well as the Seekers Book Club, which explores traditional black literature. Dickson said a community learning series is also in the works which will be aimed at introducing citizens to ideas of social innovation or ways to improve the way the social needs of the community are met.
According to Dickson the series will “highlight organizations that address issues such as predatory lending, entrepreneurship, community building, etc.” The Centre is hoping to start the series this August.