ALCOA, Tenn. (WATE) — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. forged a path for men and women of color. Nationwide monuments, streets, and buildings have been named for the civil rights leader. This includes an Alcoa community center that’s helping to educate and encourage the next generation of young leaders.  

“MLK Jr. Center was built and opened in 1994 and it took the place of a commercial building,” Lilli Brown, the center’s director, said.   

The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center & Hall Park sits at the corner of East Franklin Street and Morse Street. Brown has been the director since 2017 and is only the second female director of the center.  

“You have a majority of Black people that live in the community,” Brown explained. “I have a lot of big plans for this place. You know, it takes time, and I want to see this thing expand out and get a gym and maybe down through here make it a nice park with pavilions and stuff, and right now we’re just at a standstill.”  

The center is always expanding with new programs, but she said to continue to grow they need more space. Currently, they offer senior classes like chair volleyball and pilates during the day.   

The center also has an afterschool program that offers activities for school-aged kids. Right now, they see nearly 80 kids per day. 

“Our center is very diverse, and I have our kids do a chant and it says, ‘I love myself; I love the skin I’m in, I love everything I do, I respect myself, and I respect you too’,” Brown said.   

Brown adds that she makes sure her kids know the history of their diverse community. It’s a community that wasn’t so diverse when she was their age.   

“I tell them all the time: ‘Martin Luther King paved a way for you all to have all you have today,’” Brown explained. “I say, ‘we paved a way for you all because I was at an all-Black school when they closed it down and it integrated the school and it was very very controversial for us.”

From growing up in segregation to directing a community center named after a man who helped create change for those of color, Brown says she knows the impact she has on the next generation of future leaders.

“Women of color and women, period, that are just starting to take off by storm, politics, everywhere you go, businesses – there’s a woman running it, and I think it’s very wonderful to see, women as a whole to get out there and make a difference,” she said.

The MLK Jr. Community Center & Hall Park relies heavily on volunteers to help run its after-school program. To get involved or find out more about upcoming events at the center, you can call them at 865-983-1954.