By Dave Ongie
Booming thunder, vivid lightning and a deluge of rain last Friday forced Langston Education and Arts Development (LEAD) to change the venue for an event years in the making.
LEAD’s kickoff of a public fundraising campaign to transform historic Langston High School into a multicultural center was originally set to take place at Langston before the weather forced the proceedings indoors. But inside the cozy confines of Greater Love Church, it certainly didn’t appear as if it had rained on anyone’s parade. Over 100 people packed the sanctuary as LEAD chairman Michael Young passed on a string of good news regarding the long-awaited rehabilitation of Langston High School.
On Thursday night, the Johnson City Commission voted to move ahead with the restoration project, which has endured its fair share of bumps in the road over the last few years. And on Friday, Young announced that partners in the community had pledged over $250,000 toward the non-profit group’s $500,000 goal, which allowed LEAD to officially launch the public phase of its fundraising campaign.
“Some of you may not have attended or remember Langston High School, but if you have followed LEAD’s efforts to repurpose the historic building you may already be aware that this project can and will affect you as a resident of Johnson City,” Young told those in attendance. “In this facility, we will achieve the strengthening of bonds among groups and organizations by building social and professional networks and connections across communities and offer the first African-American Historical Museum in the area.
“A bridge has now been constructed from a history-filled past to a new and diverse multicultural future, a future with unlimited possibilities.”
Friday’s event was truly a crossroads between the past and the future as several Langston High alums listened to rising Science Hill High School senior Rachel Smith talk about her efforts to keep the legacy of Langston alive for future generations. Her remarks were met with a standing ovation.
“Moving forward, it is our goal to create a large group of informed and dedicated student ambassadors who will not only strive to preserve the legacy but also inform more youth about the various education, development and volunteer opportunities that will be provided by various programs in this newly renovated facility,” Smith said. “I am proud and overjoyed to be a part of this vision to empower, encourage and inspire not only the present generation, but many generations to come.”
In addition to Young and Smith, Dr. Hal Hunter – a member of LEAD’s advisory committee – and Adam Dickson of Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union also spoke during the event, as did Johnson City vice-mayor Jenny Brock. Brock and City manager Pete Peterson were on hand in the wake of the commission’s decision on Thursday to allocate $1.8 million toward the renovation of Langston’s gymnasium. The $500,000 LEAD is hoping to raise will round out the $2.3 million needed to complete the project.
When it was Brock’s turn to speak, she acknowledged there have been setbacks over the past three years as Langston alumni worked with the city to save the school’s legacy, but she anticipates the multicultural center will serve as a silver lining for years to come.
“We’ve been on a journey,” Brock said. “Some of the travels we’ve been on I wish hadn’t happened – the condition of the building – but it got us where we are today. This building will celebrate the past, but also plant the seeds of the future so we never lose our heritage in this city.”