The roughly $2.3 million facility, which will act as a hub for multicultural programming in the region, officially opened during a public ceremony in November, and Adam Dickson, the Langston Centre supervisor, said the city is in the middle of organizing educational opportunities for the new year.
Johnson City Commissioners on Thursday accepted a multi-year, $103,000 annual grant from the Tennessee Department of Education to fund after-school programming for grades 3 through 8.
The program is open to public and private school students, but the city said it will focus recruitment on four feeder schools: Mountain View Elementary School, Indian Trail Intermediate School, Liberty Bell Middle School and Northside Elementary School.
The grant will pay teachers to recruit students for the program and will fund four positions: one program coordinator and three teachers. Dickson said those instructors will more than likely be students from East Tennessee State University who will serve in support roles but will also have opportunities to teach.
Dickson said the grant will last for three years with the option of extending its funding for an additional two years. The program will focus on STEAM education.
He said there are currently five or six students in the after-school program. They are off for the holidays, but programming will resume at the Langston Centre in early January. The grant requires that the city recruit 76 students to the program.
The ETSU Center of Excellence in Mathematics and Science Education, the University of Tennessee agricultural extension office and Hands On! Museum will be involved in the programming. Debbie Gray, a member of the Langston Education & Arts Development organization, will lead classes on visual arts and crafts.
Transportation can be difficult for low-income parents, and Dickson said the city is still ironing out how to transport those students from school to the center. But, Dickson said noted that officials are working to resolve those transportation needs.
“One issue that mass transit has is buses are at capacity and then there’s also a shortage of bus drivers,” he said. “Folks are trying to address the issue, but yes, we are trying to move proactively to try to think through how can we get students from their school here.”
Dickson said the center is also working with ETSU’s Clemmer College to form another new program called the Ralph E. Davis Future Leaders Academy, which honors local civil rights leader Ralph Davis. Davis served as the president of the Johnson City/Washington County NAACP until his death this July.
The academy will serve as a resource for teenagers, encouraging them to engage with their community. Dickson anticipates about 20 students will participate in the program.
“We’re looking for young people who have great potential to thrive,” Dickson said. “May not be straight-A students, but they are individuals who have potential and have a desire to want to be the best they can be.”
The program will run from January to May and will feature lessons about issues in Appalachia, how to organize and how students can serve as agents of change. The center also wants to connect those students with nonprofit organizations so they can engage in service opportunities on issues that interest them — like racial justice, climate change and issues affecting children.
In August 2020, those students will participate in a symposium at the Langston Centre where they will relate what they learned in the program.
Center leaders also want to find ways to educate people about “Affrilachia,” which refers to the often-overlooked historical and cultural contributions of African Americans in the Appalachian region.
“That concept of the black presence in Appalachia is very well-recognized say in East Kentucky, West Virginia, Western North Carolina,” Dickson said, “but has not been really been talked about quite a bit in the Appalachian Highlands.”
Dickson wants to invite Marie Cochran, a curator of the Affrilachian Artist Project in Taccoa, Georgia, to speak at the Langston Centre. He said ETSU’s Tipton Gallery is already encouraging Cochran to visit the area and show her work.
For fiscal year 2019, the Langston Centre has $336,365 budgeted, which includes roughly $100,000 from the grant. The rest comes from the city. Of that $336,365 total, about $187,000 has been budgeted for personnel.
Funding from the Princeton Arts Center has been absorbed into the Langston Centre’s budget.
Dickson noted the center has a valuable partner in LEAD because the organization, as a 501(c)3, may have more flexibility to acquire grant funding and fundraising dollars, which it can pass on to the Langston Centre.
Ultimately, Dickson said the Langston Centre will focus on education, multicultural arts and community leadership. He believes the center can help recruit people from diverse backgrounds to the area.
“The Langston Centre now becomes kind of a hub if you will or a beacon for these diverse segments of the community,” Dickson said. “It becomes in one context a safe space for different segments of the community to feel that they can reflect their culture and be welcomed.”