Harlem residents gathered on Saturday to witness history as Pastor Michael A. Walrond Jr., senior pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church, church members, community members, city officials and leaders came together for a block party to celebrate the ribbon-cutting of the Dream Center, located on 119th Street between St. Nicholas Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.
The center, a space for children and adults alike, welcomes anyone with a dream. With many programs geared toward youth, such as college prep classes, and classes focusing on the arts, the Dream Center is soon to be a haven for many Harlem children as well as children all over the city.
The road to the opening of the Dream Center was a long one, which started with Walrond wanting children to believe they could do whatever they set their minds to. Pastor Tory Liferidge of FCBC told AmNews, “This is a longtime dream of our serving pastor, Michael Walrond. It’s been his vision.”
And while that vision to go from church programs to an entire center dedicated to the children and dreamers of Harlem was seven years in the making, Walrond had no doubt that the concept would become a reality. “This was supposed to happen. Every vision and every piece has come to pass.”
New York City Comptroller John Liu was there to celebrate the grand opening and spoke to the crowd about the importance of the Dream Center in the community. “We’re talking about equipping our young people, people of all ages, to ensure that they have the tools, they have the knowledge, they have the skills to move forward in an ever more complex world,” he said.
National Action Network founder and President the Rev. Al Sharpton was also in attendance and shared how the center gives the youth in the community new hope. “In the middle of Harlem, in the middle of the despair, in the middle of the squalor, there’s a Dream Center now, where children can dream and make their dreams come true,” he said. “The ability to dream is being revived by this building.”
Walrond explained how main players in the opening of the center were community and church members. Funding for the building of the Dream Center came from donations given by church members–a congregation that grew from 350 members to 8,000 in less than a decade. “The biggest thing for me is that money came from the church.”
While supporting making dreams come true for those in the community, the Dream Center stands by advancing the youth in all aspects. Bunkers Hill Construction, based out of Mount Vernon, had the youngest contractors on the Dream Center project, with no one over the age of 26. One of the contractors, Khalid David, said, “We’re a part of not only what the Dream Center stands for, but also what comes out of investing in young people.”
With the opening of the Dream Center, the community can look out for many upcoming programs and look to the center as a new home to those with new ideas and hopes for progress. “This is our attempt at creating future visionary leaders,” said Liferidge.
After seven years of dreaming up the center, new visions for the next seven years have begun. However, even with faith that it would all happen, Walrond remains humbled and thankful for how far things have come.
“To see all this come together … it probably won’t hit me until later on,” he said. For the pastor, all of FCBC and the community, the Dream Center is no longer a dream, but a reality.