The Pasco County School District handed over the keys to the new tenants of the Moore-Mickens Education Center effective July 1.
The lease is for 30 years at $10 a year.
So, now the school’s future is in the hands of a coalition of community activists who founded the nonprofit Moore-Mickens Education Center and Vocational Center Inc.
Its legacy already is in place.
Moore-Mickens is rooted in Pasco’s history as the first public school for blacks. It began as Moore Academy and later operated under the Moore and Mickens’ names as elementary, middle and high schools, and finally, as the education center.
The school’s name honors the accomplishments of two Pasco educators, Rev. Junias D. Moore and Odell Kingston Mickens.
Though the nonprofit plans to be patient and move ahead one program at a time, there are ambitious plans in store for Moore-Mickens, which sprawls across a campus of 14 buildings at the end of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Dade City.
Empowering children is a priority.
The first goal is to open a volunteer prekindergarten school that will give children a foundation for educational success.
“I want to see kids open doors for themselves,” said Marilyn Hunter, president of the nonprofit.
Margarita Romo echoes those thoughts.
“It can be the lighthouse for people who need to believe in themselves, said Romo, founder of Farmworkers Self-Help.
There are challenges ahead.
The first step is to organize a volunteer cleanup to get buildings ready to open. Plans are to use the administrative building, the building that housed the Cyesis teen parent program, and a building where the Dade City City Commission once held meetings.
In April, vandals broke about 100 windows and several doors in several buildings. The school district boarded up the windows and doors.
Repair costs are left for the nonprofit.
Romo can tick off a laundry list of items the school needs.
A church donated about 100 chairs, but more are needed, she said. Tables, commercial kitchen equipment, books and lawn mowers for the sprawling campus make up a short list.
“It’s a hard task just getting started,” Romo said. “We’ll open a little bit at a time, so we don’t go in debt.”
A local Episcopal church is making a donation to aid the school.
Hunter said the nonprofit plans to apply for a state historical grant, but additional cash donations and in-kind support are needed.
Termites are an issue in at least one building.
“It’s been sitting for three years without any care at all,” she said.
Prior to its closing in 2015, Moore-Mickens offered classes for adults, teen parents and special-needs children.
Hunter taught in Pasco schools, including adult education classes at Moore-Mickens. And, she is a high school graduate of the class of 1970, the last one before desegregation.
“I’m proud of that,” she said.
School officials threatened to close Moore-Mickens in 2014, but backed off when area residents rallied to keep it open. They cited costly repairs as the reason for finally closing the campus a year later.
Community activists immediately began lobbying to save the school. Many had ties as former students or teachers at the school.
Rev. Jesse McClendon Sr., took the lead early on. A core group of 15 or so came together, eventually founding the nonprofit.
Few would have given them much chance for success.
But, Moore-Mickens stirs passions among people who revere the school as a community treasure.
“My heart has always been here at this school and this community,” said Saundra Coward, the nonprofit’s vice president and a former student. “I have a hurt for east Pasco because there’s so much taken away from us. This center here is the heart of many of us. The closing of it was a hurting thing.”
The passion caught even McClendon by surprise.
He had expected the outcry from the black community, but everyone who had ties with Moore-Mickens wanted to save it, he said.
McClendon went to Moore Elementary, and later worked as plant manager at Moore-Mickens. His mother, Joanna McClendon, was a teacher.
Levater Holt is an officer with the nonprofit as well as former student and teacher at the school. “This school for me is where I came up,” she said. “We’re reaching out to the whole community.”
In addition to VPK classes, the nonprofit wants to offer General Equivalency Diploma instruction and vocational skills classes. Other social agencies also could become partners, including food banks, and other children’s programs. There could be a charter school, afterschool programs, and a community garden.
Hunter would like to see sports activities, possibly basketball and badminton, and maybe a splash pad.
Romo sees the Moore-Mickens campus as a hub for social agencies in the area. A “one-stop” community center already is planned for the former Stallings Building on 14th Street in Dade City.
In the future, there could be links between that site and Moore-Mickens, which Romo said has space to accommodate several programs.
Londa Edwards, Romo’s granddaughter, has a mentoring program in the Tommytown neighborhood. She would like to also bring it to Moore-Mickens.
Coward, and her sister, Dometa Mitchell, are founders of Hebron Refuge Outreach, which offers youth programs that could fit in at Moore-Mickens as well.
This is a grassroots effort, Romo said.
“It’s kind of exciting, because here is a community that gathered together to try to say ‘yes we can’.” And, now she added, “We’re going to make this happen.”
Published July 5, 2017