ROCKY MOUNT, Va. – A new community center in Rocky Mount aims to reawaken the Black history that lies deep within one street.
In downtown Rocky Mount, an empty building with a grand vision lies on Warren Street.
A street that was once a center for Black businesses during segregated times will now help foster a new generation of entrepreneurs through a new center, Warren Street Community Center.
“We have this amazing history that nobody even knows about, nevertheless, even wants to know about or get the right history when they’re told their history,” Warren Street Community Center Founder Paris Swain said.
Paris attained the lease with the hopes to have a computer lab, a library, a smoothie bar and space to host events and exercise classes.
“This also is a safe haven for people who are having issues or need somewhere to get away or talk to,” she said.
After a financial battle for nearly 11 years, Paris’ grandmother, Darlene Swain, was thrilled to hold the keys to the building that once lived on her family’s street.
“Well, I’m excited because I never dreamed I would get this back,” Darlene said.
Coming out of slavery, Darlene’s ancestors lived on this street. During this period, Black families eventually started their own businesses when they were denied services because of their skin color.
“You couldn’t even go in there and buy a soda if you were Black,” Darlene said. “So, you had to have your own things.”
She remembers when this building served as the town’s first Black-owned cleaners.
To keep these stories alive, pictures of the past will be displayed on the walls.
“I want to leave my generation better and more educated,” Darlene said. “And know your history so you won’t repeat the same thing.”
The center will have a soft reopening on Saturday, Aug. 21, to honor the 21st anniversary of the Warren Street Festival.