Before picking up her gold-plated shovel for the groundbreaking renovation ceremony at the Schomburg Center on Friday, Aysha Schomburg, the great-granddaughter of the library’s founder, Arturo Alonso Schomburg, recalled a childhood memory when the building was not in such great shape. “I remember as a six-year-old holding onto Coretta Scott King in the old building,” she said. “I was so pleased to be there and it had a lasting impression on me.”
A generation of brick and mortar has been mixed and built since her early memories, and standing next to her father, Dean Schomburg, she expressed her pride in the ongoing development of the facility and the plans for a $22 million renovation. “It keeps growing,” Aysha continued, “it keeps getting better.”
Friday was a ceremonial groundbreaking, but already construction is underway at the 90-year-old institution that houses one of the most impressive collection of African and African American books, photographs, artifacts, and rare documents. The renovation includes façade and streetscape improvements, interior upgrades, and expansion of the Langston Hughes Auditorium in whose atrium the ceremony occurred.
Preservation is the lifeblood of the Schomburg, said its Director Dr. Khalil G. Muhammad, who will be leaving for Harvard next summer. “If the building isn’t preserved, if the infrastructure isn’t modernized, then we cannot ensure that our treasures will survive another 90 years.” He took time to thank the staff and the various corporations that have been major funders in the renovation, including the Ford Foundation and Citi Community Capital.
“There is no more valuable gift we can leave the future than lessons from the past,” said Gina Nisbeth, Director of Citi Community Capital.
NYPL President Tony Marx moderated the event and introduced a number of notables from the city, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Assemblyman Keith Wright, Councilmember Andy King, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Libraries, who was particularly effusive in his remarks, and attorney Maya Wiley, Counsel to Mayor De Blasio and Director of the MWBE.
Wiley extended her gratitude to the Schomburg staff and its leader, Dr. Muhammad, “who has left us an incredibly large footprint to fill and the fact that he has raised the bar so substantially.”
That bar will also be raised quite considerably from a property standpoint with the new renovation, and in several respects it will be long way from how it appeared to Aysha’s young eyes many years ago.
(Photo from left to right: Gina Nisbeth, Gale Brewer, Maya Wiley, Tony Marx, Andy King, Khalil Muhammad, Aysha Schomburg, Keith Wright, and Dean Schomburg.)
(* Photo by Herb Boyd)