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Getting to know the new director of Spokane's Carl Maxey Center

The Carl Maxey Center is a gathering place for residents in Spokane's East Central neighborhood.
Doug Nadvornick/Spokane Public Radio
The Carl Maxey Center is a gathering place for residents in Spokane's East Central neighborhood.

Jillisa Winkler was the organization's operations director and takes over for the center's founder, the late Sandy Williams.

Spokane’s Carl Maxey Center has a new leader.

Jillisa Winkler is the acting executive director for the African-American community center in the East Central neighborhood that was founded in 2019 by the late Sandy Williams, publisher of the Black Lens newspaper, and named after the late Spokane attorney.

Jilissa Winkler is the new acting executive director of the Carl Maxey Center.
Doug Nadvornick/Spokane Public Radio
Jilissa Winkler is the new acting executive director of the Carl Maxey Center.

Winkler is a Spokane native who went to Virginia after high school. She returned home to work at the Maxey Center when it opened in 2022. Before she was tapped to lead the center, Winkler was its operations manager.

Jillisa Winkler: The Shades of Motherhood Network has this amazing Black maternal health exhibit right now, so that’s a lot of what it is is being a community space. But we also have eviction prevention and rental assistance programs, so more of those social needs programs. We also do a digital equity program, getting youth computers and tablets and technology, connected into technology. We have a legal aid clinic, the Sandy Williams Justice Center. They do legal clinics and self-help legal things like helping people represent themselves, making sure their paperwork is all done correctly and ready to go. My job has been to keep all those things going. We also now have a library. We’ve had to figure out the functioning of that library and get all those books catalogued and how people will be able to check them out. We’re also at lots of community and cultural events. It’s just keep all of that going.

Q: How would you describe this institution’s role in your community?

Winkler: Sandy Williams’ goal was to uplift the Black community in East Central from the inside out and so, really, that’s our mission. It was purposely decided that we would be in East Central and on 5th Avenue and our goal is just to uplift the community while being here and while being a beacon for people.

Q: How has the community reacted to this institution once it opened?

Winkler: I think they warmed up to it instantly. Sandy started with an eight-week campaign to purchase the building and get the capital funding going. She didn’t think they would really do it and they exceeded and she was like, “Oh, I guess this is rolling now.” I think we’ve been on that path since the beginning. Even with her passing, we’ve had a lot of support from the community. A lot of people felt that loss and they also wanted to contribute here and we’ve been very grateful to have a lot of support.

Q: You’re following a very important figure in Sandy Williams and, of course, Carl Maxey. How do you want to push things forward?

Winkler: Sandy and I had a really great meeting right before her passing where she was outlining what the next year or two would look like. As she was talking, my eyes just kept getting bigger and bigger. She just kept talking and I just kept writing. I wrote down a list of maybe 100 things. She said, “So now how do we make all of that happen?” I kind of had laid it out in a calendar and it was, like, really overwhelming that first time. Both of us were, like, maybe we have to decide what to prioritize. Maybe we have to plan out how all of this comes to be. That’s really my goal, to still do all the things that Sandy wanted to do, but figuring out what order to do them in and making sure we have that great foundation so that we can keep going.

Q: What are some of the things on that list?

Winkler: She loved conversation and so one of the things I hope we eventually get to is podcasts and kind of having those other pieces of what kind of feel like a library or feel like archives and storytelling. So figuring out how we do that that’s one of my big goals. She also really wanted to have a block party. She wanted to shut down 5th Avenue and just have a bunch of fun, so I hope to do that one too.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.