“He would tell stories about when you walked into Langston, they had a sign that said, ‘Enter to learn, depart to serve,’ ” Dickson said. “That is a major focal point for me, to continue that legacy.”
Johnson City is now converting the old school building, which had previously fallen into disrepair over the years, into the Langston Centre, a community, multicultural hub that will have a focus on STEM education and mentorship programs.
The African American public school served the city’s black community from 1893 until the school system was integrated in 1965. The city hopes to open the center in mid-September.
Starting on July 22, Dickson will begin his tenure as the first supervisor of the Langston Centre.
Can you tell me what the role of Langston Centre supervisor entails?
It’s a new center, it’s a new operation, so I would suspect that a lot of the answers to that question will be found in the first year. But I suspect facility maintenance to be a key priority to the center supervisor. I would think that maintaining and developing arts-related classes are going to continue to be a priority as (the Princeton Arts Center) shifts to Langston, and then I also foresee a need to focus on what I would call multicultural and community education, and so I think being a hub for multiculturalism, there will be a need to really spend time and highlight different cultures, different walks of life and educating the community on those different constituencies and also understanding the community in which Langston is located and trying to figure out what types of learning, what modes of learning will work well for the community so that the community is empowered to be self-sufficient and self-reliant.
Can you expand on the importance of promoting multicultural education?
As I understand what the City of Johnson City is looking for as well as (the Langston Education and Arts Development organization), the Langston Centre can serve as a hub for the diversity that currently exists in the community but also serve as a hub for the type of community that we would like to be. So in order for that to be really successful, I think there will be a need for multicultural education and understanding of respective cultures, backgrounds, celebrating difference but also again understanding community. I think that this space will be a good positive force for that.
Do you think the Langston Centre can act as a way to help support further community development in the surrounding neighborhood?
I most certainly do. When you think about community education and trying to empower a community to realize again its strengths and potential, there’s a variety of types of education that can play a role. So if we’re talking about young children making positive educational choices, the Langston Centre can be and will be a resource for working with young people in terms of arts education and then also exploring opportunities through STEM, through recording arts etc. If you’re talking about ... families and they’re thinking about home ownership, well the Langston Centre will be a ... space for groups like maybe Eastern Eight and others to teach homeownership education classes. Once people move into their homes they need to understand financial management, financial sustainability ... that’s where we’re going to have a real sincere need for financial coaching, and so the Langston Centre can be a resource for that. So if you just look at the idea of education, homeownership, financial sustainability, these are all community development issues and so there needs to be a space, a hub if you will, for this kind of education to go out and for people to feel like they’re comfortable in receiving this kind of education.
When Langston High School closed in 1965, do you think that had a tangible impact on the surrounding community?
It certainly did have an impact on the community .... You had churches, you had businesses, you had a variety of institutions already existing in the black community as a result of segregation, including Langston High School. You had this collection of existing institutions that would give the community pride even though segregation was meant to divide. As a result of integration ... the spirit of the law brought blacks and whites together so actually the spirit behind the law was to integrate, but as a result of the legislation or a result of the law ..., as you said, Langston had to close and the black students were absorbed into Science Hill. A lot of businesses closed, a lot of institutions dissolved and so the pride of the black community dissipated even though integration was a good thing that happened for the country. So having a space so that the community can come together but also so that the community can feel empowered is very, very necessary.
Can you tell me how some of the experience you’ve developed over the years will inform some of the things you’ll be doing in this new role?
I have 20 years of experience in non-profits, so I’m very eager to get back into that sector and interact with old contacts to see how we can provide services from the non-profits to the people in the community. That’s going to be a benefit of the Langston Centre, again that space to communicate to the community the services that non-profits provide. I also have 15 years of experience in higher education, so I’m very eager to see how East Tennessee State University and Milligan College and Northeast State Community College can collaborate with the Langston Centre, again, providing these services in the cultural arts and leadership in multicultural education. I also had the five years of experience with community development, working with Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union, so I’m very eager to see again how we can utilize resources in such a way to help people in the community become empowered and see them advance, kind of stair-step out of poverty.