Durham youth center, Blackspace, teaches skills and self-expression

Blackspace provides a unique and Afro-centric environment. Participants can be seen through the window practicing beat-making and spoken word. (Staff photo by Avery Rodriguez)

Blackspace, a makerspace and youth center, combines art, activism and computer science in a space for young artists in the Durham area to express themselves.

Pierece Freelon, an alum of UNC-Chapel Hill and Durham native, began Blackspace in 2014. (Staff photo by Avery Rodriguez)

Pierece Freelon, an alum of UNC-Chapel Hill and Durham native, began Blackspace in 2014. (Staff photo by Avery Rodriguez)

Pierce Freelon opened the first Blackspace workshop in 2014 in Chapel Hill. With it, he said, he hoped to provide a free, Afro-centric workshop to help disadvantaged youth in the area develop skills in social entrepreneurship and creative media.

Freelon has since brought the program to Durham and opened a second location at 212 West Main Street, where he hopes to have a similar effect.

“I think it’s important to have spaces for kids to be creative and collaborate and interact with each other and work on projects together, and that’s what I want Blackspace to be,” Freelon said.

Blackspace offers WokeShops to help children develop different skills. Thursday nights are dedicated to writing and studying slam poetry. Other WokeShops include building narratives on a digital platform.

The organization has also held hackathons and worked with virtual reality technologies and holds poetry slams and fundraisers to empower voices in the Durham area.

“Every month we do a poetry slam and the winners of those slams are eligible to go to Brave New Voices, which is the biggest youth poetry competition in the world,” Freelon said. “So each of our slams is also a fundraiser for this event.”

Blackspace’s presence in the community has provided young, local artists like Kyri Douglas a place to find their voices and gain important skills.

“It’s a space for feedback,” said Douglas, who attends Blackspace to develop his poetry. “The people at Blackspace are like family to me.”

Freelon said he hopes to continue contributing to and empowering the surrounding community, in part through 3-D printing workshops.

He also hopes to provide more international experiences for his participants.

“I want Blackspace to be a passport for Durham youth of African descent to come and engage the world,” he said.

Because the makerspace provides resources to the community free of charge, it relies heavily on volunteering and donations to function.

Those interested in supporting the makerspace can attend Blackspace-sponsored benefit nights or donate to the organization through PayPal.

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Edited by Sara Salinas