WHAT: Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, Julia C. Hester House Executive Director Sherea McKenzie, board members and community members will celebrate the community center’s 80th anniversary as a facility that started as a settlement house promoting health, education and welfare of Black residents in Fifth Ward. The over 100 people invited to the event also will participate in the unveiling of “The Stream Crosses the Path” mural, which is a replica of a painting by world-renowned and Houston-based artist, the late John Biggers. The mural, painted on the outside wall of Hester House’s Wellness Center, is the first in a series of murals that are replicas of famous Biggers’ paintings.
WHEN: 1 p.m. Thursday, April 13
WHO: Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis
Hester House Executive Director Sherea McKenzie
WHERE: Julia C. Hester House (in front of the “The Streams Crosses the Path” mural), 2020 Solo St., Houston, 77020<
Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis and Julia C. Hester House officials will celebrate the 80th anniversary of the community center that was established as a settlement house to enhance the quality of life for African Americans in Fifth Ward.
“Julia C. Hester House was established as a nonprofit in 1943 to promote the health, education and welfare of Black Fifth Ward residents and provide recreation and entertainment facilities,” Commissioner Ellis said. ”The legacy of Black settlement houses lives on in institutions like Hester House. Their place in the history of that movement is often overshadowed, but this institution is a beacon of inspiration.”
Julia Hester, a teacher and longtime Fifth Ward resident, was recognized for opening her home to neighborhood youth. She sought to ensure their safety and to educate them. She also was a community leader and active volunteer until her death in 1940. Today, Hester House, which receives funds from Precinct One, honors her legacy by providing a safe haven for youth and promoting education and quality of life for the mostly Black and Brown families living in the area.
“Standing on the shoulders and commitment of Mrs. Julia C. Hester and other notable Fifth Ward pioneers, I am excited that Hester House continues to thrive and provide vital services to the community,” said Sherea McKenzie, Hester House’s executive director. “The staff is to be commended for their diligent efforts to expand and improve services so that Hester House will be a community epicenter for another 80-plus years.”
In 1941, a bi-racial committee established the Hester House as a center to host recreation and entertainment activities for the community. The Hester House was also the first African American organization to receive its seed funding from the Houston Community Chest, which is now the United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast. In the 1950s and ‘60s, it was known for hosting sock hops for teens.
The community center initially was to be called the Houston Negro Community Center of Fifth Ward. However, before the doors opened, it was renamed after Julia C. Hester.
Hester House became a nonprofit organization in June 1943. Then located on Lyons Avenue, it provided services for youth, adults and families. It also operated a childcare center on McGowan Street. After a successful fundraising campaign, Hester House moved from the rented facility on Lyons and consolidated its services at 2020 Solo St.
In 2014, with a grant from the state of Texas and Precinct One funds, Hester House added a Wellness Center that includes a gymnasium and an Olympic-size swimming pool.
Recently, a replica of a John Biggers mural was painted on the Wellness Center. At the anniversary celebration, Commissioner Ellis, McKenzie and community leaders will dedicate the mural.
“We also have the opportunity to honor John Biggers and officially unveil the first replica mural in this series in partnership with Street Art for Mankind,” Commissioner Ellis said. “Public art has the power to inspire, make change, remind us of our history and unite people for a common cause.”