Pandemic marks void left by Norwich’s closed MLK Jr. Center, YMCA

NORWICH — One of them has been demolished. The other is empty and dilapidated.

Once pillars of the Norwich community, the closure and subsequent demolition of the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and YMCA’s formwork a void for the city’s youth that has become particularly evident amid the normalization caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. .

“Unfortunately, what we see happening today’s young people have little to no outlet,” said Reverend John Burns. “Even before COVID, they still didn’t have a place where they could socialize outside of school and develop those community skills.”

Burns currently lives in Groton, but in reflecting on his childhood growing up in Norwich, the senior pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship in Ledyard pointed out the importance both the YMCA and the MLK Center had to him and his peers.

Norwich Councilor Derell Wilson spoke on Monday about the lack of a Norwich community center at the back of the former YMCA in central Norwich.

At the YMCA. Burns remembered the endless games of table tennis and billiards; and the hours he spent on the basketball court or in the pool learning to swim. At the MLK Center, there were community events and weekend gatherings, “where kids could get together and hang out and participate in different activities.”

“The outlets we had in my day are coming — they’re not there anymore,” Burns said. “We stayed out of trouble, we were more respectful. We had those fundamental norms and values ​​that I don’t see much of these days.”

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