By Asia Nail
Sojourner’s Truth Reporter
There are three kinds of people in this world:
- those who make things happen
- those who watch things happen
- those who wonder what happened!
Reggie Williams knew from an early age that he wanted to be first on that list. Currently serving as executive director of The Frederick Douglass Community Center, Williams has turned around an indebted non-for-profit center and, for his efforts, has been awarded 2.5 million dollars for the historic property’s restoration.
It takes a village.
For many in central Toledo, that village is The Frederick Douglass Community Association.
“What I enjoy most about ‘The Doug’ are the many ways we impact lives in our own community. We bring real change. I call it ministry at its finest,” says Director Williams.
The Doug, the name the community affectionately gave the center, has been the flagship location at 1001 Indiana Ave. for the past 40 years. This historic building has been serving central-city residents since 1919.
During two Toledo City Council committee meetings at the beginning of August— the Education, Recreation & Employment Committee and the Neighborhoods, Community Development & Health Committee — members of council and leadership for the Frederick Douglass Community Center discussed a proposal to allocate $1.5 million from the capital improvement fund for significant building improvements.
However, The Frederick Douglass Community Association needed more than the initial proposed $1.5 million in capital improvement dollars for repairs and upgrades.
The urgent repairs include upgrading the gym, replacing the elevator, and upgrading the phone system, as well as replacing the roof, flooring and numerous other fixtures. With the help of Toledo Councilwoman Cecelia Adams, the proposed legislation was modified and funding approved for the 2.5 million necessary for a complete restoration.
“We are overjoyed about this renovation. Our building hasn’t been upgraded since the 1970s,” explains Executive Director Williams.
Over the past eight years Williams has been working as a diligent community leader of the center sharing, “I have found that everything seems to work out when our priorities are in order. God first. See your vision, live your dream, and expect provision.”
When Williams says “to live” he’s referring to an easy concept, one he’s made into a hashtag. The hashtag is simple, but profound – in so many ways. “ #LiveYourProtest,” reads the caption to several of The Frederick Douglass Association’s Facebook posts.
Like founding father abolitionist Douglass, The Doug shows the community how to stand up for issues that really matter to the underserved in Toledo.
Frederick Douglass, who was an abolitionist, orator, statesman, publisher and supporter of women’s suffrage, was born a slave in February of 1818 in Tuckahoe, Maryland.
During the nineteenth century Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) epitomized the opposite of what slave supporters propagated about African Americans. He was arguably the most influential orator during the 1800s, playing a vital role in the United States understanding that all men are created equal and deserve freedom to pursue happiness.
The first 20 years of Douglass’ life was as a slave. With great tenacity he escaped through the Underground Railroad, and ascended into a powerhouse speaker, writer, publisher and political pragmatist.
His lifespan covered slavery, the abolitionist movement, The Fugitive Slave Act, the colonization movement, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the birth of the Republican Party, the infamous Dred Scott decision, his relationship with the troubled John Brown, the Civil War, his rollercoaster relationship with President Lincoln, the passing of the 13th-15th Amendments, Reconstruction and its collapse, the Supreme Court’s ruling that ushered in Jim Crow, the South’s lynching mobs and the Gilded Age’s white supremacy movement.
Just as there was an underground village in Douglass’s day, so is it today at The Doug Community Center. “We are advocates and partners ready to help the community at every turn,” says Williams.
The Center’s original location at 201 Pinewood reigned from 1925 to 1979 when it was excavated. Now their flagship village is housed in the James B. Simmons, Jr. Neighborhood.
The Doug’s village makes sure that every child is loaded with fun and intellectually engaging activities that keep their minds sharp. They also have commodities every first and third Friday of each month, as well as trash drop offs for large items community members may need to discard.
As in Frederick Douglass’ time and with other African Americans today, being mentored was not always defined as meeting one’s wise and trusted friend, rather it was the rarest of occurrences to be nurtured, tended to, and allowed to grow freely.
The same often holds true today for many disadvantaged students who feel alienated and academically at a loss. At the Frederick Douglass Community Center, kids discover they are more than “underserved” or “black kids,” they learn that they have minds worthy of respect.
Williams wants something positive to come out of the worldwide demonstrations in response to the murder of George Floyd and countless other unarmed black citizens.
Reggie shares his favorite quote: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
#LiveYourProtest certainly exemplifies this quote in action.
A trust account has been established at the Toledo Urban Federal Credit Union, 1441 Dorr St., for those who wish to contribute. Walk the Word Church partnered with the association to create the foundation.
Williams says it’s equally important for the association to secure funds that will allow it to broaden its scope beyond the essential renovations at the center. “We want the newly renovated community center to be the home base for us all in central Toledo,” sys Williams.
“This is a milestone. Myself and the board are so proud to bring The Doug back into relevancy.”
After an unfortunate embezzlement of over $60k by the former director, the faith and the trust factor had left the community and its partners. Now with Williams at the helm, a renewed vigor has come to The Community Center. “I pride myself on rebuilding the trust and transparency of our partners and community supporters,” says Williams.
Being black or poor used to be considered a natural inferiority. After the death of George Floyd and countless others, the world is now nurturing an understanding that our underserved communities require nothing more than time and opportunity to attain their highest point of human greatness.
“Stay tuned on our social media to get signed up for our upcoming newsletter,” shares Williams. The Doug’s newsletter will be called “The North Star” the same name founding abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave his renowned anti-slavery newspaper in 1847.
Before renovations begin Williams encourages community members to walk in and feel the new energy at the center, become a volunteer, or submit an application to join the board. The Doug turned 100 years in 2019 and although the city has yet to celebrate this centennial, plans to commemorate the milestone will be shared in the near future.
Executive Director Williams and all FDCA Board Members extend a sincere thank you to the community for continuing to donate to The Doug at The Urban Federal Credit Union.
All community and sponsored donations continue to support programs provided by the Frederick Douglass Community Center, including a GED program through Owens Community College, prenatal care and infant mortality classes sponsored by the Lucas County Health Department, addiction support services, Youth Opportunity Programs, tutoring and summer paid employment, 24-hour day care, and Pride Kids United which has baseball, basketball, and football youth programs. The Doug’s Summer camp was a robust five-week outdoor summer experience; this year serving approximately 35 youth.
The Doug’s after school tutoring and enrichment program will be starting mid September 2021. Applications and schedules for parents will be available online at www.thedoug419.org