The Laurel County African American Heritage Center was founded in 2004 by Wayne Riley. Mr. Riley was born in East Bernstadt but moved to London at an early age when his mother died. He lived with relatives near Mill Street and 14th Street in London where the proposed project will occur. The family land includes approximately 7 adjacent acres which is currently the site of the Grow Appalachia gardens which Mr. Riley manages as the County Coordinator.
Mr. Riley moved to Nashville and Columbus for about 25-years while working as a carpenter. He returned to London in 1996 to care for an ailing relative and help is brother open a towing business. In 2004, Mr. Riley opened the Heritage Center in order to preserve the African American history of Laurel County. The Center is 501-c-3 non-profit corporation operated by volunteers. The Center is located on the corner of Mill Street and Short Street in the former church where the Riley family attended. Facilities include an exhibit room, a meeting room and a kitchen area. The facilities are in very good conditions and include many exhibits. For his work in opening the Heritage Center, a profile of Mr. Riley is found in the book Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes published in 2014 and written by Steve Flairty.
Mr. Riley is one of the first four site coordinators employed by Grow Appalachia (https://www.facebook.com/GrowAppalachia or www.growappalachia.berea.edu) beginning in 2010. Currently, there are 48 families participating in the Grow Appalachia program in Laurel County. The program was initially designed to provide low-income persons food security. However, as it matured, the program now trains participants has to sell their products to provide family income.