The Bartlett Center Historic Photos Exhibit

May 12, 2022


DEFINITION: joining, linking, or fastening together; uniting or binding.

Times change, but the best stories remain. They are shared from generation to generation, through everything from photographs to buildings to real conversations (a.k.a, the good stuff).

One of St. Joseph’s great stories of history, culture and change is the Bartlett Center. Founded in 1968 as Black Citizens for Progress, the Bartlett Center has recently completed a significant renovation and added oversized photos to the walls to help tie the community to its past – and to inspire a new generation toward its future. The new historic photo exhibit is carrying out the organization’s mission in an accessible, relatable, and story-building way. The photos span back to the 1800s, showing a glimpse of the only black school in St. Joseph. Other photos showcase Bartlett High School and Horace Mann school. Faces include class photos, teachers, marching bands and even historical banners. A timeline panel helps tie key events together.

It is, essentially, bringing what’s on the walls far beyond those walls and into a new generation.

LaTonya Williams, executive director, has her own way to explain the impact. “For so many local families, it was a cornerstone of relationships and togetherness. And a connection to the African American stories of our city. It still is that today, and we are so excited for what the future will hold for our young people.”

The Bartlett Center continues to expand to serve children, youth and families in St. Joseph’s middle neighborhoods. Also known previously as Eastside Human Resource Center, the nonprofit organization maintains its focus with diligence and creativity:  to provide quality programs that enrich the lives of children, parents and the community since 2006.

Core programs are child care, the summer program, the after-school program and community events. With recent gym renovations, the Bartlett Center has begun hosting Sunday open gyms and groups like the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce.  Always working in collaboration, the Center also welcomed  Missouri Western State University men’s basketball team, which spent the afternoon with the preschool and youth programs. As a demonstration of the never-ending innovations from Williams, a spring maker space/maker fair and other community learning events are also on the calendar.

It’s a bright, energetic and lively place, for sure. But the highlight in 2022 is the new exhibit featuring oversized historic photographs, placed throughout the gym as part of the St. Joseph Museums Inc. extension of the Black Archives Museum.

If the walls could talk, they would probably talk about the floors. Upgrades and renovations have made the gym floor shine, part of a $1.2 million Capital Improvements Program through the City of St. Joseph. Most who come to see the space are wowed right away by the floor, and likely also by the thought of thousands of shoes who will walk, run and shoot across it in the years to come as part of the Bartlett Center community. The roof, bathroom and the stage area have also been renovated, along with a new HVAC system. Many area residents share stories about how the center meant so much to them as a youth, and all can take pride in how city tax dollars have made such an impact.

Encouraging local youth will always be at the core and heart of the Bartlett Center. “This place is more than just a building- Bartlett Center has had the pleasure of being a part of the lives of every family in the community,” says Williams. “Our main focus is to not only help families succeed, but to give our youth an opportunity for advancement and to grow to their fullest level of potential.”

“The photos represent the ancestors of many current St. Joseph individuals and families. It’s our hope that within these walls, we actually take the walls down – sharing what makes our city’s history wonderful with all residents, neighbors and friends,” says Williams.

The building is open to the community for viewing and/or gym usage Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m, a typical time when the youth come to enjoy the gym – creating the perfect high-energy and hopeful viewing experience.

“We really want to help teach people about the history of our building and of our programs. These images are only the beginning.”


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