Dream Fearlessly with Student U at the W.G. Pearson Center

William Gaston Pearson was born on April 11th, 1858, as a slave on a Durham County Plantation.  At the age of 21, after being self-taught throughout childhood, he continued his education at Shaw University. Upon graduating, Pearson dedicated his life to ensuring others could receive a quality education.  In 1886, Pearson created The Royal Knights, a progressive reform group that focused on helping southern African-Americans advance socially and economically. That same year, Pearson became a teacher at the Whitted School (originally Hillside Park High School) where he spent years educating children while advocating for improved schools in Durham. When a new elementary school was built for black children in Durham, the choice for principal was obvious: William Gaston Pearson. Pearson went on to lead the school for 18 years. As a result of his leadership, William Gaston Pearson became known as “Durham’s Black Superintendent.” Pearson continued empowering young people of color with the enriching education they deserved until the end of his career.  Pearson passed away in 1947 after a lifetime of working to increase opportunities for those around him. The W.G. Pearson Center (WGPC), built in 1928, has continued to house programming which align with his value of education, his fierce belief in all students, and vision of a better Durham.

For almost a century, WGPC has been a place for Durham youth to learn and thrive. In 2017, in partnership with the Durham Public Schools, Durham County, and Self-Help Credit Union, Student U became the master tenant of WGPC and is now preparing to move into the renovated WGPC.

Alone, Student U cannot adequately honor William Gaston Pearson and fulfill his vision for Durham. Therefore, Student U is seeking partners to join together at WGPC to combat systemic racism and structural inequalities in service of a Durham where all children can succeed. Individually, tenants of WGPC will continue their work to achieve their desired goals. Collectively, tenants will form a consortium of like-minded organizations, sharing best practices and advocating for policies and investments to enhance systems which enable all people to thrive. Over the past year, Student U has engaged with members of the Hayti community, Durham leaders, and long-time Student U partners to dream fearlessly about what can happen at the W.G. Pearson Center. Together, we have rooted our vision in the following pillars:

  1. WGPC will remain a youth-centered space that houses activities and programs that enrich the lives and change the outcomes of young people;
  2. WGPC will be accessible to the surrounding community of neighbors and organizations;
  3. All tenants of WGPC will collaborate to have the greatest possible collective impact on Durham.

Based on this vision, we require partner organizations who:

  1. Align with Student U mission, vision and commitment to utilizing a racial equity framework in its work;
  2. Desire to collaborate with other organizations within the building;
  3. Will authentically engage with the neighborhood around WGPC;
  4. Will challenge Student U and other partners to pursue the bold vision for WGPC in the most equitable and values-driven manner.

The WGPC leasing model will enable the building to be accessible to the most amount of people and partners, while remaining financially sustainable. Therefore, Student U imagines diverse partners in a variety of phases of organizational development, from new ventures to established community organizations, all with the shared goal of enhancing the lives of people within the Durham community.

If your organization believes in the potential power of this vision for WGPC and can commit to the requirements of WGPC partners outlined above, please complete the partner application at your earliest convenience. We will be reviewing applications on a rolling basis, including inviting applicants to engage in further conversation about space needs, potential partnerships, and financial investment. We are excited to achieve our goal of having the right tenant combination and operating the building at full capacity.