Since the 1980s, the name Highland Park has been closely followed by the words poverty and crime.
“When people talk about Highland Park, all they talk about is crime, crime and crime,” said Jo White. “There’s so much more here besides crime.”
White is the longtime director and co-founder of Saving Our Youth, a nonprofit offering high school, college and job assistance programs for youth.
“It’s time for people to see the real Highland Park and the real people here,” she said.
The new Six Points Innovation Center, or 6PIC, opened in the heart of the community on Tuesday evening and will look to transform the region’s reputation, placing its youth at the forefront.
Ryan Rinn, executive director for Storefront for Community Design, led the center’s development. Rinn said the project had been part of the strategic plan for improving Highland Park’s quality of life that he helped develop for the city starting in 2011 as a graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Four nonprofits will share the space and offer programming, focusing on providing the neighborhood youth with educational opportunities to attend college and find careers in the region to set Highland Park up for long-term success.
Rinn’s Storefront for Community Design and White’s Saving Our Youth will have a place in the center, as will Art 180 and Groundwork RVA.
Art 180 focuses on art-related programs for youth, encouraging self-expression and community change. Groundwork RVA equips young people with skills in landscape and urban development through service and green-collar job training.
White said, “We knew that not one organization could have done it. We knew that we had to come together. So we came together, joined forces and got the grant.”
Free Egunfemi, founder of Untold RVA, will be a co-director of Storefront for Community Design’s high-tech addition to the space, Storefront Studios.
Storefront Studios will teach youth how storytelling techniques and journalism work together to record history.
Highland Park is another area in Richmond “prime for gentrification,” Egunfemi said.
“The people that are living here now, chances are they’re going to lose their homes,” she said. “If there’s a way that we can help stop that by making sure these youth are making the money they need to hang on to these houses, renovate these houses and be happy here, our job is done; we did everything we were supposed to do.”
Egunfemi and Storefront Studios co-director Kelley Libby said they received a $20,000 Ovation Foundation grant to purchase reporting kits and iMacs.
“History is such an asset here and, as the city grows, so is journalism,” said Libby, founder of Unmonumental RVA. “So we have to give young people opportunities to enter the field.”
Storefront Studios’ $20,000 grant was just one of the five received by the entire collaboration to bring 6PIC to fruition. Overall, the groups received $290,000 in grant money toward the center.
Virginia Local Initiatives Support Corporation assisted Rinn and the other partners with securing their largest grant from the Robins Foundation, totaling $125,000 in 2015 to renovate the building.
Virginia LISC Partnership Manager Ebony Walden said, “This project is not only changing the lives of the youth in this neighborhood, but changing the course of the entire neighborhood.”
Rinn believed children will have the best ability to address their community’s needs.
Therefore, 6PIC’s opening coincided with the start of a program called Changemakers. Teenagers will be elected to a council, provided a budget and charged with generating programs.
“They see it every day; they live here,” Rinn said. “I feel like putting them in processes as youth that they will experience as adults and letting them navigate it now just makes them better prepared.”
For 16-year-old Highland Park native Samiya Jackson, the new center should fill other teens’ free time.
“Looking at my surroundings, a lot of kids don’t have much to do with ourselves,” Jackson said. “It will invite kids here instead of being on the streets or doing nothing all day or getting in trouble.”
The center will offer programs in several fields, including archaeology, urban ecology, art, architecture, design, public media, public history, communication, public policy and city planning.
Prior to the renovation, 6PIC’s location was one of the many empty spaces along the corridor. As the center has developed, other businesses have also looked to the area for locations, potentially leading to revitalization of the strip.
“Once one thing starts happening, everything starts happening,” White said.
6PIC is open for office hours Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will offer programming outside of those hours. It is located at 3001 Meadowbridge Road.