By MIKE MCGEE
The Dallas Examiner
When the nation’s steadily-but-slowly growing economy was blindsided by worldwide coronavirus, multiple social effects unfolded. Effects that included: a decrease in corporate underwriting and the dwindling of charitable giving, as well as the closing of facilities that communities depended on. It was an outcome that affected the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas so severely that the Moorland Y, stationed at 907 E. Ledbetter Drive since 1972, was permanently shut down.
In late August, the facility merged with the Oak Cliff Family YMCA, located at 6701 S. Hampton Road – approximately four miles away – and is now known as the Moorland Family YMCA at Oak Cliff.
“Members and program participants of the Moorland branch will become members and program participants of the Moorland Family YMCA at Oak Cliff,” said Keith Vinson, vice president of operations of the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas, on a Moorland YMCA F.A.Q. notifing the public ahead of the merger on the Y’s website.
“We are in communication with those who used our programs at Moorland to ensure they know the options available to continue using those programs at Oak Cliff …”
A gem of local African American social and spiritual life in the then-segregated Southwest, the former Ledbetter Y traces its roots to 1930, when the cornerstone was laid for the original 2700 Flora St. building downtown, according to a 2008 report, History of Moorland YMCA, prepared by QuimbyMcCoy Preservation Architecture, LLP.
The Moorland name and the purpose of that specific Y holds significance for Blacks in Dallas to this day. The original building was named for Dr. Rev. Jesse Edward Moorland, an African American who was the second secretary of the Colored Men’s Department of the YMCA in Washington, D.C., the report documented.
Vinson noted that this Y provided rooms for use by Black visitors to the city as similar accommodations were severely limited due to the Jim Crow laws of the time. Prominent African Americans who stayed at the 37-sleeping room facility included Ray Charles, Muhammad Ali, Ernie Banks and Justice Thurgood Marshall.
The original Moorland building has been the headquarters for the Dallas Black Dance Theatre since Dec. 2007 when the performing arts group raised approximately $10.3 million to purchase and renovate the building.
Now that the merger has a few months behind it, Vinson described the change as going as well as could be expected. For example, while not every employee from the Ledbetter location could be absorbed into the Hampton facility, several employees were able to stay employed either at the merged location or in other Y properties.
“We’ve been fortunate to be able to see about 50% of facility usage in comparison to the same time last year which is one of the more higher percentages in the association,” he remarked.
The YMCA organization is looking to further invest in the location through a capitol campaign.
“It’ll be one of two facilities that will be expanded on and improved on in the capital campaign. The other one will be the Park South YMCA,” he continued.
The campaign will eventually go public.
“What we are leading up to right now, it’s in the preparation phases of building the case, what we know about the case is that investments will be into those two facilities …” he said.
“We’ll also have an endowment to that, and then we’re also focusing in on mental health and safety around water,” as a way of tailoring ways to meet the needs of the community with the recent change.
Even with the merger, the vice president confirmed that the Moorland name would remain a positive legacy in a broad region that serves communities from Waxahachie to Frisco, Rockwall to Flower Mound with 22 different associations, camps and facilities.
“You take the Moorland Y, going back to 1930 and all the great work that they did through the civil rights, housing, different individuals coming through…” seemingly indicating that the positives that originated in the Moorland building defy the constraints of time and location.
As for the physical buildings at the Ledbetter location, Vinson said that they would be sold. A third-party organization called Gro – that Vinson said many Ys use throughout the country for different projects – examined the best way that the facility could serve the community.
“They came in and assessed all of our facilities throughout the Metroplex and began to take a look at demographics of communities, the usage, and so kind of ranking them in terms of how we can maybe invest in the different properties, and if we invested in different things, kind what the terms essentially could be,” he explained.
Additionally, the Lakewest Family YMCA permanently closed in July, and the Irving Family YMCA closed in August. Services in nearby areas of these locations are still being provided however, according to the organization’s website.
The vice president emphasized that the sale of the Ledbetter property would only be to the right buyer as decided by the YMCA organization.
“We will be very intentional,” Vinson voiced on selling the property, with the highest bidder not necessarily becoming the owner.
“We want to make sure that it is very community-focused so the community’ll know that, one, the Y cares about them to be able to bring in another organization that’s going to care about the community.”
He also considered the local change in a year of many bigger changes in terms of the Black community in South Dallas.
“What it means is that the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas is going to invest several millions of dollars into the [Moorland Y at Oak Cliff] facility to help to continue to sustain our programing and even expand it, so as we have merged the Moorland location to the Oak Cliff location we will still service the Moorland community,” he affirmed.
“The service part will not stop. What we will do is increase the opportunities for individuals to be a part of the program,” he continued. “One of our core things that we do is offer financial assistance for people to participate in those programs that have a fee.” Offering after-school programs, STEM-oriented learning, devotion periods, online games, fitness classes and opportunities for children to join in outdoor team sports and play initiatives will also remain key services to the Y, regardless of a pandemic or economic slowdown.