'A great asset to Johnson City': Langston Centre ribbon cutting set for Sunday

David Floyd • Nov 15, 2019 at 8:00 PM

There was a time when Langston High School was the center of the black community in Johnson City.

While locals involved in the revitalization of the building want to hold on to that legacy, they also want the facility to help foster the creation of a new community.

“It’s been a long road and the fulfillment of the vision and a dream of a lot of people,” said Michael Young, the chairman of the Langston Education & Arts Development organization, which spearheaded the rehabilitation of the old school building. “Langston held a great import to the community. ... It was a school, but it was a family. It’s going to be a great asset to Johnson City.”

Officials will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony from 2-5 p.m. Sunday to commemorate the opening of the Langston Centre, a new hub for multicultural programming in Johnson City. The center has been built on the remnants of the old Langston High School building, which served Johnson City’s black students from 1893 until the school’s closure with desegregation in 1965. The ceremony will begin at 2:15 p.m. followed by light refreshments and tours of the building.

Renovations to the old high school began in late 2018. The building was previously used as a maintenance facility for the Johnson City School System and fell into disrepair over the years.

Johnson City Facilities Management Director Randy Trivette said in July the total cost of the reconstruction and site work is about $2.5 million.

The lingering connection to the building’s legacy is evident. Old pictures of past Langston High School students line the hallways — eagle-eyed visitors might notice Young himself in one of the photos — and trophies and uniforms are carefully arranged in display cases near the entrance.

The facility will serve as a home for various forms of programming, which Langston Centre supervisor Adam Dickson said will center on three general categories: arts, leadership and education. Dickson hopes to put a focus on STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) and black history, and he wants to find fresh ways to ensure knowledge resonates with current and future generations.

Dickson said the facility contains a computer lab, a media lab, which will include audio recording equipment for creative projects, and a large multipurpose room, a space that used to be the high school’s gym. The Princeton Arts Center will also move into the facility.

The media lab will be a way to connect with kids in grades 8 to 12 through “creative youth development,” a way to encourage them to express themselves in artistic ways. In this case, Dickson said that could involve organizing a community choir or a putting together a podcast about the history of the school.

To his knowledge, Dickson said there are at least six after-school programs for kids in Johnson City. He hopes the center will be able to collaborate with those organizations to provide them with educational resources.

“This is the one grand opening that I’m most proud of,” said Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock on Friday.

Brock anticipates the center will help Johnson City adopt a more multicultural view of its overarching identity, offering a facility where all races and ethnicities can have their voices heard.

She would also like to see the formation of a youth council, which would allow kids to provide suggestions to city government.

Brock said she was invited to a class at Indian Trail Intermediate School about a month ago and heard ideas from students about issues surrounding homelessness and how the city could handle the recycling of plastics.

“They’re the ones we’re leaving some of these big problems to anyway, so might as well engage them and involve them now,” she said. “They look at things differently, and it’s great.”

Ultimately, Dickson wants to ensure the services offered by the center circle back to Langston High School’s old slogan: “Enter to learn, depart to serve.”

“Everything we do at the Langston Centre should be in line with that phrase,” Dickson said. He hopes students who participate in programs at the center will absorb what they learn and apply it in the community.