Group works to restore historic home

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Dr. John Avent, front, a Buck Leonard Association for Sports & Human Enrichment board member, paints Wednesday with Jonathan Fox-Hunter, the association's historian, at the Mitchell Family Coaching and Community Enrichment Center.


Staff Writer

Friday, February 23, 2018

A local 501(c)3 nonprofit organization is looking to renovate and restore a historic Rocky Mount home on the Edgecombe County side of town that was donated a few years ago to showcase black history and enhance services to youth in the community.

The Buck Leonard Association for Sports and Human Enrichment Inc., which incorporates Edgecombe, Nash and Halifax counties, was founded in 1999 to bring a variety of enrichment programs to the inner city and low-wealth communities. In 2010, the league became a Major League Baseball RBI affiliate to help revive baseball in inner cities.

Rose Hunter, executive director of the Buck Leonard Association for Sports and Enrichment, said the group also in 2010 had a home donated to the organization that’s located a block from the Rocky Mount Event Center. 

Hunter saidthe donor of the home, Joan Mitchell-Smart, stipulated that the Buck Leonard Association use the home to sustain its baseball league and bring enrichment services to at-risk children in the community. Mitchell-Smart is part of the family tree of the Willie Mitchell family that was known to be pillars in the black community in Rocky Mount.

The Mitchell family’s two-story home at 402 Albemarle Ave. was used to lodge travelers and visitors to the city that included the World Famous Harlem Globetrotters and was constructed during the post-World War I era of the segregated South. Hunter said she learned the home was known as a resting place equipped with a Southern kitchen to prepare sumptuous meals, an inviting front porch, spacious parlor and dining room.

“The Mitchell family residence allows us to examine the life, work and culture of black families who inhabited the city of Rocky Mount during the late 1890s through the late 1960s,” Hunter said. “The home and the Mitchell family helped shape the legacy and history of the community, city and surrounding area.”

Hunter said the Buck Leonard Association is working on details to form a partnership with Edgecombe Community College’s Historic Preservation Department that will take on the task of restoring the home back to its original condition. The N.C. State Historic Preservation Office also will be involved in the project.

Once completed, the Mitchell Family Coaching and Community Enrichment Center will be used as a rotating community history exhibition center showcasing the history of significant people and signature events in Rocky Mount such as the Black June German annual dance, which was known as a popular social event that brought big-time black musicians from across the country like Cab Calloway and Jimmie Lunceford to the city, Hunter said.

Hunter said it’s important for local children to know about the history of their own community.

“We want to use the children to share this information to the community,” Hunter said. “What I’ve learned from my interractions with kids is that they appreciate history so much and they’re yearning to want to learn more. Once you start talking about history, they eat it up and they have an excitement about their history more than adults. It’s important that they know who contributed to the economic and social development of the community.”

The other array of activities that will take place at the home include building a computer lab and providing tutorial assistance and being a family resource and referral portal. The home also will be used as an extension of the organization’s youth baseball league such as having a pitching and batting cage for children, providing physical fitness and endurance training, and being a learning center for teaching baseball fundamentals using virtual reality and artificial intelligence methods of instruction.

Hunter said funding to help with the cost of the home will be coming from grant funding, donors from local organizations and fundraising from people in the community. She said she hopes people in the community will step up and help.

“The main thing that I hope will happen is the community — especially the black community — will assist us in bringing that house back,” she said. “I think this should be the beginning of the process of perserving our structures and homes in the black community.”