How will the former KKK hall promote multicultural celebration and healing? Here’s a look

·5 min read
Amanda McCoy/amccoy@star-telegram.com

As a north side native, Roman Ramirez often drove by 1012 Main St. on the way to his mother’s house. Long before he knew its dark history, the co-founder of the ethnic dance center SOL Ballet Folklorico said he knew the building could be something great.

When Ramirez heard from Daniel Banks and Adam McKinney of the arts group DNAWORKS, he said he knew he wanted to be involved in transforming the former Ku Klux Klan meeting hall into something positive for the community.

Ramirez said he felt a burst of pride when he heard the building will become The Fred Rouse Center for Arts and Community Healing to celebrate diversity, art and entrepreneurship.

“You can’t help but to feel pride and joy that this is happening,” said Ramirez, a board member of Transform 1012 N. Main Street, which acquired the building.

The building was built in 1924 and became the KKK’s Texas headquarters. In 1929 it became a concert hall and a warehouse space for a pecan processing company. It its latest iteration it will be named after the victim of the only recorded lynching of a Black man in Fort Worth.

“From the beginning, this wasn’t a property acquisition project,” said Banks. “This was a movement to return resources to the communities that had been targeted for violence and economic marginalization and oppression by the Ku Klux Klan.”

In addition to affordable housing and offices, some intended uses are a theater and event space, an amphitheater and public park, an open dance studio and rehearsal room, and a gallery highlighting racial, gender, sexuality and economic justice. A farmers market, a space where artists can sell their work, and meeting spaces for racial equity and leadership training are also planned.

The organization also plans to welcome visitors with a story telling booth in the lobby. People can record their own history of Fort Worth and broadcast it on TV screens around the building.

As a performing arts director Banks recognized need for more venues in the city. He joined forces with activists, nonprofits and others to form group of eight organizations known as Transform 1012 N. Main Street. They’ve developed a list of projected uses.

‘Home for the whole community’

Taylor Willis, executive director of The Welman Project, said she knew she wanted to be involved in the process after hearing about it.

The Welman Project saves a vast array of items before they’re thrown out. It collects surplus items from businesses and gives them to teachers so they can be reused in the classroom. T-shirts turn into lab coats for science class, CD cases turn into students’ personal white boards, and file organizers turn into weaving looms.

“It fits in so well with what we do at The Welman Project, seeing the potential in things rather than what they are now,” Willis said. Transform 1012 is “the ultimate repurposing project of taking this symbol of hate and turning it into this beautiful home for the whole community.”

Willis said the center will allow the organization to reach beyond the classroom. It will open a tool library where anyone can borrow tools to use at home and a “maker space” where people can use their materials and build whatever they want.

She said she envisions it as “a space where everybody can come and create, learn and build and play [and] not have to worry about needing to buy that tool or provide those supplies themselves.”

Willis hopes to host classes for kids to learn and conduct science experiments and for adults to reconnect with their creativity.

Sharon Herrera, executive director of LGBTQ Saves, said the center will host the city’s first in-person space dedicated to LGBTQ youth. It plans to expand its resources, such as weekly support meetings and suicide prevention training, into a full-service safe house to provide children with whatever they need: GED classes, a library, or a shower.

“I want to create a place that they can call home, and they’re fully welcomed and accepted,” she said.

Educating everybody

Ramirez said he’s excited that the center will represent multiple cultures and communities. Remembering the students he’s taught at Sol Ballet Folklorico, he said many are not often exposed to multicultural places.

“When you have a building that’s going to host multicultural organizations of all backgrounds and diversity, you’re educating everybody that’s walking into that building,” Ramirez said.

Transform 1012 is set to begin the design phase of the estimated three-year process. Banks said the organization plans to host meetings with community members so they can provide feedback on design decisions.

Construction is expected to last about 18 months, and an opening date is projected for late 2024 or early 2025, marking 100 years since the building opened.

“There are these very weird and wonderful 100-year cycles that Fort Worth is experiencing around racial justice that I think is really worth noticing,” Banks said.

The Tarrant County Coalition for Peace and Justice hosted several events last month to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of Fred Rouse’s death by a white mob.

Banks said he sees the building as an opportunity for education, healing and a way to prevent history from repeating itself.

“People only are able to oppress and mistreat other people, because they don’t think they’re going to be called on it,” Banks said.

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