Community leaders, Leon Dixon and William Grace founded the Center on a very simple premise . . . “All of us find ourselves with discretionary time, the question is, “What are we going to do with it?” Volunteer!
The W.E.B. DuBois Learning Center started with five students and evolved from the union of a Reading program developed by William B. Grace and a Mathematics program developed by Lester “Leon” Dixon. The W.E.B. DuBois Learning Center has been a cornerstone for education in our community since 1973. The Center was founded as a supplemental educational program with specific goals designed to provide general instructional assistance to students' grades 1-12 in core content areas of Reading and Mathematics, and was subsequently expanded to include Science, Computer Technology, College Coaching and a host of enrichment programming, which most recently includes KUAW-98.5 Community Radio.
In 1971, while working in the Kansas City Missouri School district at Central High School, Bill Grace was assigned to boys who had been labeled “troublesome”. He soon discovered that the boys were bored and unresponsive to traditional teaching methods and materials and began using his own personal reading material, magazines and methods, after which he noted that they responded more favorable. Looking for more independence and having a desire to reach more students, Mr. Grace moved his class to the Paseo United Methodist Church and formed a book club and discussion group. After a month or so, he was approached by a church member to expand his program so that students from other schools could participate. Mr. Grace, wanting to make a statement and keep alive the name of an outstanding black intellectual named the program the W.E.B. DuBois Reading Program.
While pursuing his Master’s degree in Mathematics, Mr. Dixon worked as a tutor in the Mathematics program at Texas University. Upon obtaining his degree, he received a summer internship at NASA in Houston and begins work on a PhD at the University of Iowa, where he also served as a teaching assistant. During his 2nd semester of school he was hospitalized for 17 days and diagnosed an arthritic. After several unsuccessful attempts at finding work, he accepted a position as an industrial mathematician/scientific programmer at the Bendix Corporation in 1965. In the early 70’s, Mr. Dixon found himself providing tutoring sessions to his family and friends, especially sharing concepts that had not yet been introduced at school. Initially, Mr. Dixon thought that there wasn’t much he could do with his mathematics background in the community; however, through his experience working with family and friends, he began to realize that there were people out there that needed that type of assistance. One evening a child that he had tutored was leaving his house when he thought to himself, “If another kid comes here for me to tutor I would have to spend another two hours going over the exact same thing. Why spend two hours with one kid when I could be helping ten? Additionally, he knew that there were other members in the community that could help provide these services. Mr. Dixon worked out the details and presented the idea to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and they agreed to implement it under his leadership. The mathematics programmed started in the spring of 1973 and classes were held in the St. James Gregory United Methodist Church, where future Mayor and now Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver Sr. was the pastor.
Since 1973 a diverse group of professionals have volunteered together to provide students and adults help in the areas of academic studies and technical training, and the Learning Center has become a gathering space and think tank for issues that disproportionately affect African American communities.
In 1983 our first building was donated to us by Fred Curls and Freedom Incorporated. The Learning Center grew by leaps and bounds over the next 25 years. We expanded beyond reading and math and added science, technology, college coaching and media. During those years, our enrollment reached an all-time high of 600 enrollments! Additionally, we took advantage of the vast knowledge and experience we had in technology to launch the telehub – by 2008, over 30 community centers and churches were connected to the internet through the technology hub at W.E.B. DuBois Learning Center! In those early days, the Learning Center was the launching pad for new businesses, community organizing and educational reform initiatives. It was not unusual to see Kansas City’s movers and shakers coming in and out of the building. Additionally, we’ve hosted dignitaries and academic champions including: Dick Gregory, Sonya Sanchez, Iyanla Vanzant, Dr. Asa Hilliard, Bob Law, Ossie Davis, Dr. James Smalls, Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu and Dr. Marva Collins to name a few! The work of the W.E.B. DuBois Learning Center is well known throughout the urban core, and nationally and many school and community leaders consult with us regarding successful practices for student learners. Unfortunately, it all came to a halt in the winter of 2008 when the boiler failed and we were faced with a decision that would change the trajectory of our organization - invest $40,000 to repair the boiler and launch plans to renovate and expand our existing building or move to a location that would be more adaptable to our vision and goals. Ultimately, we decided to move, and from 2008 – 2011, we continued to provide services, but were challenged because we did not have a permanent location to call home.
In 2011 we moved into the Milton Moore Elementary School under a lease agreement with the Kansas City Missouri Public School District and got to work. Within months of move in, the boiler went out and we were again faced with a significant decision. Fortunately, there was an angel among us who believed in our work and made the commitment and investment to repair the boiler. We finished the year in temporary space and re-opened in the fall of 2012. Since that time, we have been in rebuilding mode and although our goal during this difficult time was maintenance and stability, we continued to grow programs, attract new volunteers and partners, and be resolute in our vision for the future. Our focus is raising awareness of the Center to help ensure sustainability, while transitioning new leadership and service models to support 21st century learning, and thinking about a more strategic way forward – with a goal of ensuring impact and value to the community for the next 40 years!
On August 26, 2016 we completed the purchase of the Milton Moore Elementary School. With more than 45,000 square feet of space, the building is structurally sound and for the first time provides us ample classroom and learning space to meet and expand our current program design. As we begin to think about and offer additional learning opportunities to prepare students and adults for 21st century opportunities, the school provides us with stability, a place to call home and a place we can prepare to leave a legacy for our children and community – The Future is in Our Hands.