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We’re losing too many black institutions in Columbus

Students read the Creed of African/Black America during a check presentation at the Columbus Black History Museum and Archives. U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, second from left, presented Johnnie Warner, right, the museum founder and director, with a check for $5,000 from the Black History Observance committee. Back row from left: Dave Gillarm, grand historian for Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Georgia; Bishop; and committee chairman Teddy Reese, Esq. Front row from left: Skylar Lewis, 9, Amber Ray, 6, Kayle Lewis, 12, Andrew Lewis, 11, and Warner.
Students read the Creed of African/Black America during a check presentation at the Columbus Black History Museum and Archives. U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, second from left, presented Johnnie Warner, right, the museum founder and director, with a check for $5,000 from the Black History Observance committee. Back row from left: Dave Gillarm, grand historian for Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Georgia; Bishop; and committee chairman Teddy Reese, Esq. Front row from left: Skylar Lewis, 9, Amber Ray, 6, Kayle Lewis, 12, Andrew Lewis, 11, and Warner. ROBIN TRIMARCHI rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com

Since moving to Columbus four years ago, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in the community: historically black institutions are becoming extinct.

I first noticed the problem with the Claflin School on Fifth Avenue, once the location of the city’s first school for black children.

The site has a rich history, dating all the way back to the aftermath of the Civil War when the first school was constructed by the Freedmen’s Bureau. But the current building, which replaced the original school in 1958, is now an eyesore in the community.

I wrote a column lamenting that fact when the city was considering returning the building to the federal government. I hoped the building could be saved. But I learned last week that a group trying to preserve the building has been having some internal problems, especially when it comes to fundraising.

A lack of financial resources also has hampered operations at the Columbus Black History Museum, where a plethora of artifacts document Columbus’ rich black history. The museum’s founder, Johnnie Warner, abandoned his passion last year to work at the Kia plant in West Point, Ga. It was the only way he could survive financially, he said, and the museum’s future is still uncertain.

And then there’s the Columbus Community Center on Steam Mill Road. It was started 70 years ago by a group of black educators who saw a need for cultural enrichment programs in the community. The center is now located in the John Amos Aflac house, another historical treasure, but raising money has been a challenge.

The center recently terminated an executive director and two other employees because of funding issues. The woman currently running the operation is a former director who returned as a volunteer, and now the organization’s United Way funding is in jeopardy.

Some may attribute the problems to poor management and inadequate leadership. But even if that’s the case, the money still has to come from someplace. And the question is, “Where?”

The fundraising arena is very competitive these days. Government grants and corporate donations are limited, and there’s only so much money to go around. That means organizations must be more creative if they’re going to survive.

I think one untapped resource is the black community itself. Earlier this year, I wrote a story about black wealth in Columbus based on a 2015 African-American Consumer Report published by the Nielsen Corporation. It listed the Columbus metropolitan area among the nation’s top 10 metro areas for black households making $100,000 or more.

Could that be the answer to this conundrum?

Alva James-Johnson: 706-571-8521, @amjreporter

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