Extraordinary People

Hate to hope: White supremacist store becomes community centre

Reverend David Kennedy believes in the power of education

It might be easier to knock down controversial buildings and turn our backs on them, yet one man believes this could simply lead to history repeating itself in other areas.

Instead, he believes that confronting anti-racist attitudes square in the face is a more fruitful way to educate people and help society move towards healing.

Thanks to his progressive ideas, black civil rights leader and pastor Reverend David Kennedy took ownership of a white supremacist store and turned it into a community centre.

[Credit: The Echo Foundation]

That’s right! He is now the proud owner of a store previously known as The Redneck Shop.

The shop not only sold Confederate memorabilia and Ku Klux Klan robes, but also served as a meeting place for Klansmen, Neo-Nazis, and other white supremacist groups.

When Kennedy took full ownership, the building still contained haunting remnants of its past with Klan recruitment cards scattered on the ground and a floor-to-ceiling swastika mural.

[Credit: The Echo Foundation]

The extraordinary story began back in 2006, after a former Klansmen named Michael Burden Jr (who owned the store and also lived there), approached Kennedy after he quit the KKK.

Desperate for money, he tried to sell the space to Kennedy who agreed and altruistically gave Burden a home and food for his family before they parted ways several years later.

Their partnership went on to capture the eye of Hollywood and was adapted for the silver screen, with Forest Whitaker playing Reverend Kennedy and rising star Garrett Hedlund as Burden.

Fast-forward to today and the Rev continues on his mission in his native South Carolina, USA.

[Credit: The Echo Foundation]

He has also joined forces with local historian Regan Freeman to grow an organisation that focuses on transforming symbols of racial inequality into opportunities for reconciliation.

Now, their Echo Foundation shines brightly in the city of Laurens and they have raised nearly $400,000 (£292k) toward the venue – now named Echo Theatre – to become a community centre.

Speaking about their work, Kennedy, 67, said: “To be a black person in America, I have too many stories to share that people wouldn’t believe.”

Chatting to CNN, he added: “We don’t want to just have a museum to tell this story. We also want to detail what happened here to make sure it never happens again, and it is about to become a place for reconciliation, justice, and healing.”

Right, off to watch Burden this weekend!

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