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Grant approved for African-American cultural center at Round Lake Park

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Round Lake Park is on track to become home to a long-awaited and much-desired cultural center for Oviedo’s African-American community after more than a decade of work.

A state $499,500 African-American Historical and Cultural Grant was approved on Dec. 5. The grant will be used to develop an African-American cultural and arts center at the park, located at 891 E. Broadway St. in Oviedo.

The funds are to be used for infrastructure and construction, which will allow the city to renovate the current building at the park, while adding a3,000-square foot structure to encompass the entire center, Recreation and Parks Director Paul Belden said. The plan is to create a museum in the current building, with the new facility offering space for civic meetings and other community uses.

The city has been working with community groups Oviedo Citizens in Action, Inc. (OCIA) and Improving Oviedo Neighborhoods (ION) through the grant process and plans for how the center will function.

“Because there is a history with these organizations, and with people in the community, part of this grant is to incorporate some historical education and incorporate a museum displaying the relevant and historical figures within the [African-American] community,” Belden said. “The existing building gives us that opportunity to showcase all that.”

While the Oviedo City Council gave the OK to submit the grant application in November 2021, the surrounding Johnson-Hill and Washington Heights communities have been asking for a cultural center since a 2009 community survey, according to ION’s William Jackson.

“[The cultural center] was not my idea,” Jackson said. “It’s what the residents said they wanted to see in the community. We’re trying to get something started to make a mark, make an impact in our community.

“The center will be used for programs and events,” Jackson added. “It should entail the history and contributions that African-Americans have contributed to the Oviedo community.”

Round Lake Park is important to the African-American community, said Kathy Hunt, president of OCIA which was founded more than 50 years ago, and uses the park for its meetings.

“We set forth … to be a voice back to the underserved and the community,” Hunt said. “We got involved, and started having our meetings at Round Lake Park because that’s in the center of … what they consider the Black community, if you will. We never wanted to be identified like that, but hey, that’s right there in the Johnson Hill [Washington Heights and Jackson Heights communities].

“But it’s becoming a more diverse community,” Hunt added.

While the funds will allow for the initial development, the hope is that it grows into much more.

“It’s one small step we can take to get bigger and better things,” Jackson said. “With the available funds, we won’t get everything we want as of now.

“[The community would like] a large community center, like other municipalities have,” Jackson added. “The existing building is pretty small right now and not equipped for a large-scale community center. Expansion would be ideal.”

Expansion could come through an updated budget in the city’s master plan, Belden said, though with the grant funds only recently made available, they are still in the early design phase for the initial development.

Hunt, who has been a community activist most of her life — she was one of the first Black students to integrate her high school in Charleston, S.C. in the early 1960s — said that incorporating the history of Oviedo’s African-American community is essential. 

“We would like for that building to be named after someone in the community, some African-American in the community that has made a difference,” Hunt said. 

Creating the center at the Round Lake Park location will allow for educational opportunities, giving surrounding schools, such as Jackson Heights Middle School, the ability to bring students to learn more about Oviedo’s history and the contributions made by African-American figures throughout the years.

“I think it’s important to always acknowledge history,” Belden said. “There are prominent figures in the African-American history of Oviedo. Being able to educate and explain [these figures] of our city and how the city was shaped and informed from these key figures, and how it relates to today’s existing population [is important].”

While there is no timeline yet for the completion of the cultural center, the fact it is finally becoming a reality gives hope to the community for what the future holds.

“This is the start of bigger and better things yet to come,” Hunt said. “Babies don’t start off walking first. So, unless they’re giving us a whole lot [more] money [right now], then we can jump out there and start running.

“But it’s a start. It’s a start.”

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