Gladys Knight & husband establish foundation to renovate Canton’s former all-black school

Music legend Gladys Knight and her husband are breathing new life into a project to renovate Canton's former all-black school into a community center.

Gladys Knight married Canton native Billy McDowell, who attended the Reynolds school. He says he promised his grandfather he'd return to help his hometown. He bought the school a couple years ago, and now along with his wife, they've created the Reynolds Community Center Foundation to raise an estimated $5 million for the project.

Plans call for a food pantry, gym, child care, a computer center, substance abuse center, a library, even a music room. They're all notes the couple says will inspire.

“I hope I have done that with my music, so far -- singing their lives and lifting them up and that kind of stuff. But to go to the next level, really good things, something tangible,” Knight said.

“When I grew up there, we had the YMCA. It was a meeting place for everybody to come together, all different races. And we were there we played and we interacted together,” McDowell said.

Mike Finton is the executive director of the foundation. He said people can help fund the project through fundraisers.

“In Asheville, we want to have people come to a concert that Gladys is going to put on,” he said.

Finton said people can also go to the website or even buy a brick.

“People will be able to commemorate family members, people from the past -- anybody,” Finton said.

Residents say the center will uplift all.

“It will help all of Canton, sometime, Haywood County,” Hubert Thomas said. “It’s all going to be good especially for the children.”

“I think Billy and Gladys are nice people, and I hope things work out for them,” Juanita Bryson said.

“I feel like it’s up to all of us to share those great gifts that we have so that they can be the best, especially young people,” Knight said.

Completion is slated for the summer of 2019.

Gladys Knight and Billy McDowell will host an event at the old Reynolds school on February 28 at 10 a.m. to meet with residents and tell them more about the project.

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