Carl Maxey Center opens doors and opportunities
Sandy Williams, who has been editing The Black Lens, is turning her focus for the next year to developing the Carl Maxey Center in East Central Spokane as a neighborhood cultural center and gathering place to provide programs and services for the African American/Black community.
Remodeling a 3,000-square-foot, 1920s building at 3114 E. 5th Ave. was set for completion in February, and she plans an opening—pending COVID—when it's finished. That is the first of four phases of development.
Even while construction was under way, the center began offering services.
The Carl Maxey Center seeks to change lives of Spokane's African American/Black community by expanding educational, economic and cultural opportunities. Its programs address 1) racial/social justice and equity; 2) business/workforce development and economics; 3) education and advocacy, and 4) cultural enrichment.
"The center seeks to uplift, empower and transform our community to design solutions that address challenges," Sandy explained."We are doing a lot with a few folks."
The nonprofit board includes Betsy Wilkerson, chair; Walter Kendricks, vice chair; Curtis Hampton, treasurer; Terrie Ashby-Scott, secretary, and members at large, Wilhelmenia Williams and Sylvia Brown. Brianna Rollins is program coordinator; Dorothy Hood is bookkeeper, and contract consultants provide rent and utility assistance.
"We have provided more than $700,000 in rental and utility assistance so far. It is specifically targeted for Spokane's BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) community. We recently received additional grant funds from the City of Spokane to continue the work," said Sandy.
"It's a big lift for a little organization," said Sandy.
The Carl Maxey Center has also received funds to provide technical assistance and support to Black businesses, because COVID has had an impact on businesses, especially Black ones.
They formed the Black Business and Professionals Alliance in winter 2020 to provide networking opportunities, address barriers to success and connect them with financial resources.
"In spring 2020, we created the Black Business Directory, listing more than 50 businesses at blackspokane.com, so people would know what businesses were available and are better able to support them," she said.
"It's exciting to discover businesses I did not know and help others find them," she said.
The alliance has held three online round tables offering information on what people need to start a business.
With COVID, there have been many grants to help businesses succeed, but local Black businesses had difficulty accessing them, so they created a program to provide one-on-one support.
"The Black Business Support Team has three consultants who assess what a business needs—a bank account, business cards, record keeping, a logo or business license—and we find grants to cover the costs. We helped 20 businesses move to the next level to be sustainable," Sandy said.
In 2021, the Carl Maxey Center joined with the Hispanic Business and Professional Association, Multiethnic Business Association/AHANA, the Inland Northwest Business Alliance (the LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce), the Spokane Independent Metro Business Association (SIMBA) and the Native Business Center.
The center partnered with Comcast to create a student tech fund, providing students with access to technical equipment or knowhow for remote learning, helping 25 families buy computers, headphones, desks and equipment for hot spots.
"We have been doing that while finishing the first phase of the center," she said.
"We started the Carl Maxey Center because people wanted a place to come and feel at home, a place that reflects them, a place to do programs and hold events," Sandy said, describing four phases for developing the center.
Phase one: a meeting room for speakers and workshops.
Phase two: a cultural library, conference rooms, staff offices, an art exhibit area and coffee shop.
Phase three: shared office space—like the Community Building downtown for nonprofits—with computers, fax machines, copiers and mailboxes for starting businesses.
Phase four: a multimedia center with equipment to produce videos, a radio station and the newspaper, to give people access to media to find their voice.
"It's a big endeavor to have all that in one place and partner with East Central Spokane neighbors, such as Impanda drumming and dance classes, Spokane Public Library at Liberty Park, the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, and Michael Brown, who runs Fresh Soul and Spokane Eastside Reunion Association (SERA) after-school and job training programs for young people.
"We want organizations to work together," said Sandy, whose family came to Spokane when she was 12, after moving with her father's Army career to California, South Carolina, Hawaii and Germany.
After high school in Cheney, she left and returned several times. She earned a degree in psychology in 1983 at Washington State University and a master of fine arts in film and video production in 1998 at the University of Southern California. She worked in Boulder, then Los Angeles and came back to Spokane to work in HIV/AIDs education. She returned to LA and came back to Spokane in 2006 to work in suicide prevention.
For her mother, Wilhelmenia, a member of New Hope Baptist Church, Spokane is home.
"Now, with the Carl Maxey Center and The Black Lens, Spokane feels like home," she said.
"When I left and came back every few years, little seemed to change. Even though different people came and went with the military, higher education and other jobs, we had the same conversations," said Sandy.
While spending time with her father when he was sick, Sandy played with Adobe InDesign software and decided she could put a newspaper together. Before he died in February 2015, she published two issues.
"At first my goal was simply to tell positive stories, but on the first page of the first issue, I covered the Use of Force Report about the Spokane Police Department, which I did not feel the Spokesman Review covered accurately," she said. "I thought if I created a community newspaper, we could also host events and that would take care of the problems our community was experiencing, but it didn't."
Sandy gathered friends for a backyard BBQ in 2018 and discussed what needed to happen so Spokane would change. Ideas emerged. She gained more ideas as she drove from place to place delivering The Black Lens.
One day, she saw an abandoned building on E. Fifth and felt it was "crying to have someone take care of it." She asked her mother to look at it with her.
Standing in the building, they knew it was what was missing.
She decided to honor Carl Maxey after an East Coast friend suggested the center be named for someone in Spokane.
"Who else but Carl Maxey, the civil rights attorney," Sandy said. "Our board agreed immediately. We made Carl Maxey Center T-shirts two years ago. Whenever I wear mine, people tell me of Carl's impact on their lives."
"With the Black community continuing to experience effects of historical trauma, having a Carl Maxey Center will be healing," she said.
With turnover in the Black community, the percentage of Blacks in Spokane's population remains the same as decades ago.
"Young people do not stay. We need ways to keep young people here. Much is about creating jobs and opportunities," she said, "and an environment and a culture so they want to stay here.
Sandy, who has found opportunities in Spokane, hopes the center will do the same for the next generation.
"I could not have started The Black Lens in LA or NYC. Here young people can be a big fish in a small pond," she said.
While she develops the center, The Spokesman Review will include quarterly Black Lens inserts.
For information, call 795-1964, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit carlmaxeycenter.org.