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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Why not both? Community center proposal would honor MLK, keep East Central in name

Feb. 3, 2020 Updated Tue., Feb. 4, 2020 at 8:41 a.m.

Elijah Belcourt, left, leads a youth athletic activity on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, at East Central Community Center in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Elijah Belcourt, left, leads a youth athletic activity on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, at East Central Community Center in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A compromise could be within reach to resolve the protracted debate regarding the name of the East Central Community Center.

A proposal to rename the community center to honor Martin Luther King Jr., has been delayed by the City Council until Monday.

The pause is meant to allow time for the community center’s operator, the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center, to hold a vote among its board members on the latest proposed name – The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center at East Central.

Introduced last year, the initial proposal under the council’s consideration was to strike the East Central Community Center name entirely and title it the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center. But a new iteration would seek to strike a compromise between the center’s nonprofit operator and those who want the building’s name to match its neighborhood.

The building has been called the East Central Community Center since it was founded more than 40 years ago. But since it was awarded a city contract in 2017, the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center has managed the community center. The agency’s leaders have advocated that the building’s name be updated to reflect its own.

Proponents of the name change have noted East Central’s dynamic racial history relative to the rest of the city, noting the history of redlining that resulted in black residents being directed to live there. They have also argued that a building in Spokane should be named in honor of King, as there is currently none.

But opponents contest that, like the West Central Community Center and Northeast Community Center, the building’s name should represent the geographic area it serves. Some in the community have expressed worry that renaming the building would erase the history of its founding.

East Central was the city’s first community center, launched in 1979 after a coordinated effort spearheaded by the League of Women for Community Action.

The city conducted an open online survey to gauge the community’s opinion on the topic last summer. A plurality of voters supported changing the center’s name to honor Martin Luther King Jr., but it was not a majority. The city included several names of prominent black community members with direct ties to Spokane’s history on the ballot, but they did not score as highly as Martin Luther King Jr.

As the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center transitions from its decades-old home on South Sherman Street into the East Central Community Center, its leaders argue the new name would affirm its identity as an organization and its stability in its new home.

The organization also believes its identity is key to its fundraising efforts, which are important to not only become less reliant on city funding but implement its long-term plan of buying the community center building.

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