Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the Dunbar Community Center as a Lexington community century. The error has been corrected. (Feb. 4, 2024)

LEXINGTON, Ky. — A century of history and community sits in Lexington’s northeast neighborhoods at the Dunbar Community Center.

What You Need To Know

  • The Dunbar Community Center is one of Lexington's long-time investments in the northeast community

  • The center was one of the city’s all-African-American high schools before Lexington public schools integrated

  • Now, the Dunbar Community Center opens its doors to youth and families for community engagement

  • Last year, the center was recognized as one of the Kentucky Basketball Hall of Fame's “Glory Road” gymnasiums for its title-earning history and making a difference in the community

The community center has become a new kind of classroom and learning environment for young people in the area. At least twice a week, Trudy Rose at the Dunbar Community Center says basketballs hit the court and kids in the neighborhood find their village. Often the community fills their activity rooms, kitchen, gym and other spaces. 

These facilities contribute to the center’s collective mission to preserve and provide a community engagement place for the northeast area of the city. 

Originally an all-black high school, the Dunbar Community Center was the first Dunbar High School. The Dunbar Echo, an old yearbook of the school, says nearly 340 students attended the school around the early 1920s to 30s. 

“Everyone in the city came to Dunbar High School within the city limits, and there was no bussing. So everybody walked to Dunbar,” State Rep. George Brown, D-Lexington, recalled. 

Brown was once a student at the Dunbar High School. He touts the school’s pride and prestigious educators who inspired young African Americans during a challenging era. 

The Dunbar Community Center works with local youth sports teams like Charlotte Court in Lexington. (Spectrum News 1/Sabriel Metcalf)

“This was the jumping off point for me, for everybody in Lexington, for every black person in Lexington, the city, the whole city. Dunbar was the center,” Brown explained. 

The school was eventually closed after desegregation in 1967. Later, the community advocated for the building’s use. 

Today the center is still investing in Lexington students, holding summer and after-school programs for kids in the area. There are also plans for a three-phase renovation and update process. Commissioner of General Services Chris Ford says the Dunbar Community Center is a part of Lexington Parks and Recreation systems which invested nearly $28 million into parks with the help of the American Rescue Plan Act over the last few years. 

“Here at Dunbar center, over $3 million has been committed to improving the space here. So we are wrapping up very close to spring,” Ford said. “We will complete renovations to the entire roof system.”

Services at the center include cooking classes, sports teams and art-influenced programs have been inspired by what was once a primary education center. 

“Crafts for the week. It can be based on birthdays coming up. It can be based on holidays and then, of course, tailored to the kids,” said Rose. Rose is the recreational supervisor and says that they plan purposeful events and activities that invite kids to do something meaningful. 

“I think the most significant thing is making sure our doors are open for them, making sure at the end of the day, on their worst day, they have somewhere that they can just let go and be free,” Rose explained. 

Something leaders say is present in the former school now over 100 years ago. “This place is still iconic for the people in this community, Black people in this community. It still holds a special place,” said Brown.

“Do whatever it is they want to do as long as it’s positive. Our main thing is making sure our kids are safe. They have that, you know, that extra connection,” Rose said.