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Martin Luther King Center turns 50, continues building on core community values

INDIANPOLIS (WISH) — Martin Luther King Junior’s legacy stands alone. An Indianapolis community center named after him is building on it as it reaches its 50-year milestone.

MLK Center representatives say community is still central to its mission.

The MLK Center is back open after a multi-million-dollar renovation, but the core of this place hasn’t changed.

The community resources not only provide a place to learn and grow, but a safe space for young people to be themselves and welcomed.

Opportunity doesn’t always come easy for young people who live near and around the Butler Tarkington neighborhood. But for 50 years now the MLK Center has stood in the gap for young people like Tristan Wilcher.

“There’s not a lot of minorities that you see in this industry. So, this is one of the few programs that started up, especially in Indianapolis that have a lot of people that look like me”, Wilcher said.

He’s part of the centers 40 West Digital cohort. A program for young people 17-24 interested film and photography. There they learn the ins and out of the areas of lightning, sound, design, cinematography and writing.

“I’ve never had a Black teacher. I’ve never had a male teacher either. So having both of them it feels real. Feels like someone that I can look up to,” said Wilcher of the cohort instructor.

Since opening in the back room of a barbershop in 1973, the MLK Center has gone through transition. Shaping into what you see today. A place packed with culture, community and care for children both young and old.

“It’s a place to celebrate, so we’re not just talking about all of the challenges that Black people have but things that they are able to do and accomplish and learn and grow,” said executive director Allison Luthe.

She said the Black community’s roots run deep in this area. And the community guides the decisions, and that approach has kept it growing. Through giving back, after school literacy support, 40 West Digital and so much more.

“This neighborhood has a long history of supporting social justice and racial justice. And red lining in home ownership for Black families. So, it’s just really important that we continue to do that today,” Luthe said.

Wilcher says while MLK’s fight doesn’t look exactly the same today, the core ideas of freedom and equality remain.

The MLK Center’s founders’ breakfast is happening Friday morning and some of the young people in the program will be hosting it.