• 77°

Group plans fundraiser for teen center restoration

CAFÉ-A+ will be hosting its third annual Evening of Dinner andJazz at the Thames Center on the campus of Copiah-Lincoln CommunityCollege on Feb. 16 at 7 p.m.

CAFE A+ (Community Action Fostering Educational Activities), anon-profit organization dedicated to community enhancement foundedin Brookhaven in 2001, has planned the dinner as a fundraiser forits current community project, the restoration of the old AlexanderTeen Center.

CAFE A+ Publicity Chairwoman Annie Henderson said the buildingwill serve as an activity center and museum for the wholecommunity. The top floor will contain the gymnasium and space foroffices, while the bottom floor will house a museum, kitchen andlearning centers.

“We’re in the process of restoring the top floor first, so thecommunity can use it for after-school activities and summerprograms,” Henderson said. “Once we get the bottom floor finished,we’ll install computers in the learning center and use it fortutoring and job skills. One of our goals is to enhance youngadults to make them more confident when applying for jobs.”

Henderson said CAFE A+ was seeking old photographs that documentthe history of the community, and old trophies and other sportsmemorabilia from people who played in the teen center while it wasstill the Alexander High School gymnasium.

“We’ll take anything that anyone wants to donate that relates tothe history of the community, the city of Brookhaven or LincolnCounty,” Henderson said.

The teen center has a long history that thrived during thesegregation era. Built in 1947, it was once the main gymnasium forthe all-black Alexander High School, named after its firstprincipal, Archie Alphonso Alexander.

“At that time, it was the only gym for African -Americans to usefrom Louisiana to Tennessee,” said CAFÉ-A+ President Steven Keys.”The only other gym was in the Mississippi Delta.”

The gym was used extensively as, basically, the home court forteams in a segregated college basketball conference then referredto as the Negro Big Eight.

“Mr. Alexander had a vision not only for the teen center to beused by this community, but for other schools to use it,” Keyssaid. “Numerous championships were won there.”

After Alexander High School burned down in 1952, the teen centerbecame a multi-purpose center, used for classrooms andpractices.

The building morphed again into a community center in 1970, whenthe rebuilt Alexander High School constructed a new gymnasium oncampus. The Brookhaven Parks and Recreation Department beganoperating the facility, still using it for basketball games andpractices, but also for dances and other community activities.

After many years, the teen center almost became history itself,when the Brookhaven School District decided to cease maintaining itand locked the doors in 2002. In 2005, CAFE A+ approached theBrookhaven School Board to save the building.

“They made a request where they were going to use it as arecreational facility again,” said James Tillman, Brookhaven SchoolDistrict Deputy Superintendent. “Since the district wasn’t using itat the time, we turned it over to them.”

With the historic building now in-hand, CAFE A+ is workingtoward its restoration. The Evening of Dinner and Jazz is the firstfundraising event of 2008 for the building’s salvation, and allproceeds will go toward finishing the restoration of the top floorgymnasium. Tickets to the event are “moderately priced,” at $25 perperson or $40 per couple.

At the dinner, the organization will give out its second annualSocial Conduct Award. CAFE A+ asks the community to nominatesomeone who is active in volunteering around the community,performing in community support, service and mentoring toyouth.

The deadline for nominating a candidate is Feb. 1. SocialConduct Award candidates can by nominated by mailing thecandidate’s name, address and phone number, along with a briefdescription of community service, to the following address:

CAFE A+

C/O Annie Henderson

P.O. Box 527

Brookhaven, MS 39602

Anyone wishing to donate pictures to the forthcoming teen centermuseum may send them to the same address.