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Muskogee’s MLK Community Center Moves into New Home

New Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center increases community impact

By Teree Caruthers on September 30, 2016

Muskogee's MLK Community Center
Muskogee / Mandy Lundy

Even before the building once located 627 North 3rd Street became the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, it played an integral role in Muskogee’s African-American community. During World War II it served as the Army barracks for Negro soldiers and later as the city’s segregated black library. Finally, in 1974 the building became a meeting place for young people and other organizations in the community. 

Dreaming Big

Fast-forward 40 years and the center’s many youth outreach programs had outgrown its 5,400 square feet. With help from the city and generous donors, a new, 19,000-square-foot facility opened in April 2016. The new building allows the MLK Community Center and the nonprofit Neighbors Building Neighborhoods of Muskogee to continue the mission of providing a safe, healthy environment for the city’s youth.

“Back in my day, parents worked 9 to 5 and would be home with the kids in the evening. We’re serving a big group of kids whose parents work two or three jobs or who come from single parent homes, so no one is there after school to feed them or help them get their homework done. We provide them with a meal and make sure they get their homework done,” says Derrick Reed, MLK Community Center program director, who himself frequented the center as an adolescent. 

More Space to Learn

Reed says the center offers programs year-round. In the summer, the center hosts a Dream Team Summer Learning Camp. Certified teachers lead the camp, which encourages continuing education through games and hands-on activities.

“We wanted to keep their minds going and keep them motivated about educational things,” Reed says.

The center also participates in the USDA Summer Feeding Program, providing free breakfast and lunch for kids. On summer weekends, the center hosts a community-wide program, Night Hoops, and invites kids to play basketball, soccer and volleyball from 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. 

During the school year, the center provides meals, tutoring and homework help for students across the city in grades K-8 through the Dream Team After School Program.

“Some of the most successful programs at our center are the after school programs, where we tutor students in their homework and provide a safe environment for latchkey children,” says the Rev. Rodger Cutler, a volunteer teacher at the center. “Overall, the MLK Center provides a safe, educational environment for our community. The King Center is a light of hope for our community as we continue to lift up the ‘dream’ of Dr. Martin Luther King.”

State-of-the-Art Facilities

Reed says the larger facility, which features five classrooms equipped with smart boards, computers and audio/visual tools, a large eating area and community room, a multi-media resource library, and two large private meeting areas, allows the center to serve even more of the community. 

“Last year around this same time, we were servicing 120 kids in a 5,000-square-foot building and feeding them from a kitchen the size of your traditional home kitchen,” Reed says. “With the the new building, we are able to service more kids in the community. In the first two weeks after opening, we already had more than 160 kids.”

“The building is so attractive, we’ve had people who have driven to Muskogee just to come in and tour the building. There’s a lot of excitement about having a new center – having a place for the kids as well as a new gathering place for the community and meeting space for other civic organizations,” he says.

 

P { margin-bottom: 0.08in; } The MLK Center provides a safe, educational environment for our community … [and] is a light of hope for our community as we continue to lift up the ‘dream’ of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Rev. Rodger Cutler
pastor at St. Mark Baptist Church and volunteer at the MLK Community Center

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