It was a great day in Harlem. The brass band played as the sun majestically shone down from a boundless sky. The poets interpreted, as the wind whispered to the waving tree that would one day grow big and strong and tower like a Watusi guard in front of the newly renovated "Center of Knowledge on the Global Black Experience." The talking drums beat out the news, carrying the message from beneath the new steel-gray, glass façade of the entrance at 515 Lenox Avenue, up to 136th Street, and then vibrating back to 135th Street. Thumping its way down into the 135th Street Subway station, the beating drum rattled its way back up, wrapping its powerful energy around the Chief, Dr. Howard Dodson, and the magnificent group who had shared the fulfilled vision, and now stood on the fiery red carpet cutting the red ribbon. May 10, 2007. This was a glorious day in the village of Harlem, as the people came together to rejoice, give thanks and celebrate the grand unveiling of the $11 million renovation of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.
After undergoing a 2-year makeover, during which time its facilities remained opened to the public, and access to all five of its collection divisions remained uninterrupted, the 81-plus-year-old Schomburg Center has now stepped into the 21st Century. Long lauded as one of the foremost organizations of its kind, its innovative on-site, online and outreach capabilities to access information have now catapulted the institution on to another league on a global level. At the same time the library continues to provide comprehensive, quality programs that are both educational and cultural, and with its new superior state of the art facilities, the Schomburg experience promises to be an even more enhancing one.
The Grand Opening ceremony, which took place in the Langston Hughes Auditorium, captured moments that were both sacred yet festive, commemorative yet victorious. Camille Yarbrough baptized the ceremony with a libation offering of acknowledgement and gratitude as she called upon the ancestors, invoking their great spirit. Amongst them, the visionary Mr. Arturo Schomburg, founder of the institution, and Ms. Jean Blackwell Hutson. Sister Yarbrough, who was dressed in white, deftly guided the ancestors on their spiritual journey, then welcomed them through the gates of the Schomburg, as she filled the Langston Hughes auditorium with peace and love, reminding the celebrants of "The principles and values that sustained us…principles of system and value."
The Rev. Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook offered the invocation, which was followed by welcoming remarks from several executives of the New York Public Library and New York elected officials. Amongst them, Catherine Marron, the New York Public Library Chairman of the Board, who remarked: "This library is a crucial link to this community's past." Her colleague, Dr. Paul LeClerc, the New York Public Library President and CEO, pointed out: "The Schomburg is one of the greatest libraries in human history," as he shared his new expanded vision. "The key now is to get this library to be opened 6 days a week." David Ferriero, the Andrew W. E. Mellon Director and Chief Executive of the Research Libraries, reminded the audience that "the collections are unrivalled in the world," as he commended Dr. Dodson and his staff "for maintaining a high level of service during the renovation."
The Schomburg's exemplary and dedicated Chief Executive, Dr. Howard Dodson, resplendent in a wheat colored caftan, reflected upon the journey leading to the decision to bring the library into the 21st Century. He then focused upon some of the aspects and attributes of the modernized space. "This renovation has added a new lobby and a new façade…a video wall," he commented, referring to the video wall viewable from Malcolm X Boulevard. Dr. Dodson also discussed the Scholars-in-Residence Center, and "the transfer of the Latimer/Edison Gallery from the area along the front of the building to a new space on the entry-level floor." The Gallery debut exhibition is "Black Art: Treasures from the Schomburg," which runs through October 28.
Dr. Dodson also framed the timely, thought-provoking exhibition, "Stereotypes vs. Humantypes: Images of Blacks in the 19th and 20th Centuries," by placing it in context with the recent Imus controversy. "We didn't know Don Imus would do what he did," he commented, about the shock radio personality's reference that negatively stereotyped African-American women. The exhibition is on display in the Exhibition Gallery on the main floor through October 28.
New York State Senator Hon. Bill Perkins praised the Schomburg chief executive, saying: "Dr. Dodson has made this into a community space. I want to thank him for his leadership." The Honorable Bill Perkins, a former council member, was one of the elected officials who funded in part the $11 million Schomburg project, along with Councilwoman Inez Dickens, Council Speakers Gifford Miller and Christine Quinn, and the New York City Council. Other key players that supported the initiative are Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Assemblyman Herman "Denny" Farrell, and former Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields (the latter two who were in attendance).
The current Manhattan Borough President, the Hon. Scott Stringer, observed: "Whether you live in Harlem or anywhere in the world, you think of the Schomburg…it's a centerpiece of community thought and debate." He added: "We all have to work together and the place we will probably do that is in this great building," he said of the Schomburg, whose restoration was implemented by the design team Dattner Architects, with Hill International Inc. providing construction management services.
Throughout the ceremony, various dignitaries on the podium acknowledged some of the movers and shakers who either reside or work in Harlem. Amongst the notable list, choreographer/director, George Faison, National Black Theatre founder, Barbara Ann Teer, Harlem Arts Alliance president, Voza Rivers, Apollo Theatre CEO, Jonelle Procope, writers Quincy Troupe and his wife, Margaret Porter Troupe, and the poet Sonia Sanchez, who resides between Philadelphia and Harlem. Also attending the dedication were such invited guests as John W. Franklin, Program Manager, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Ambassador Crispin Gregoire, Permanent Representative of Dominica to the United Nations, and Monique Macaire of the Martinique Promotions Bureau.
Harlem's well-loved Council Member Inez E. Dickens' message focused on the youth, but first she paused to acknowledge Sister Yarborough. who she said, "got us in touch with one another, so that we know why we are here." The Council Member then commented, "This is not just a library, this is a garden, deep with roots!" She continued: "Our youth can come here and learn and grow and they are flowers of this garden…this building is the anti-gang process that prevents our children from going on the wrong track." Then she sang the praises of the Chief: "The minister of this garden under God's leadership is Dr. Dodson."Yes, indeed. It was a great day in Harlem.
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