Transforming former ‘Redneck Shop’ into multicultural center one step closer as marquee shines new hope into building

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LAURENS, S.C. (WSPA) – A beacon of light and hope is now radiating from a place that was once filled with darkness. Transforming the former Redneck Shop has been years in the making, but the man behind it all told 7 News, they finally have the resources to get started.

A shining example of a quote, Reverend David Kennedy lives by very closely.

“Light dispels the darkness,” said President of The Echo Project, Reverend David Kennedy.

The former Redneck Shop is a place that has seen a lot of that. Reverend Kennedy first knew it as a segregated theatre.

“We were not allowed downstairs, if we tried to, they would beat us severely,” Rev. Kennedy said.

And then, the Redneck Shop which included a KKK museum and a meeting spot for white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

But Reverend Kennedy has been working tirelessly to erase the hate, like the swastikas covering the walls. That’s not only the case at the Echo Theatre but also, the city of Laurens.

“My great, great uncle was lynched here,” Kennedy told 7 News.

“From the beginning, it wasn’t something Laurens wanted to be associated with but now that we’re able to close the book on that and have it be something that encourages unity in the community, that’s something everyone in Laurens should be happy about,” said City of Laurens Mayor, Nathan Senn.

Kennedy took over the building years ago and has been on a mission to turn it into a center for diversity ever since.

“In the process we’re hoping relationships will be built and people will come to an understanding of one another and understand, hatred has no future,” said Rev. Kennedy.

However, the funds to get started weren’t always there.

“Things really started popping off I guess a year ago in June, there was a larger conversation in America about racial injustice and how to fight that. We’ve raised a lot of money and have a good bit to go but this is a wonderful first step,” said Executive Director of The Echo Project, Regan Freeman.

While lighting up the marquee is a start, Kennedy told us there’s still a long way to go.

“People are still fighting the old Civil War and these people are still so full of hatred,” Kennedy explained.

However for now, a blemish once plaguing a South Carolina town, now the start of a beaming example of Reverend Kennedy’s mission of light and love.

“You can’t fight with hatred in your heart,” Kennedy said.

Reverend Kennedy told us they’re hoping to be able to have those conversations of inclusion and diversity within the Echo Theatre’s walls by the end of 2022.

A large donation was given to the project Thursday night from Walmart.

You can find additional information on the Echo Project below:

“The Echo Project is a nonprofit organization founded in 2019 by South Carolina Civil Rights Activist Reverend David Kennedy, members of New Beginning Missionary Baptist Church and residents of Laurens County, South Carolina. 

True to the vision of Reverend Kennedy and members of his church and community, The Echo Project is beginning renovation and construction at the Echo Theater to create an inclusive multicultural initiative that embodies the transformative powers of reconciliation and tolerance. 

Once the building renovation is complete, the NEW Echo Theater will house a world-class museum and an in-person and online education center that will share the untold history of racial violence, the struggle for civil rights, and the power bestowed on communities through tolerance, justice and racial reconciliation. This center will celebrate diversity and empower young people to be positive and peaceful community builders. 

Inspired by the decades-long saga of Reverend Kennedy and his fight against (and eventual ownership of) “The Redneck Shop,” we are committed to telling the truth about our past, standing against hatred and building a better future for all people.  

Visit www.rehabhate.com to learn more. “

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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