Dr. Douglass' fight for equal cultural access
Cyril Josh Barker | 4/12/2011, 5:28 p.m.
Being the only Black person to serve on the New York State Cultural Education Trust Board, Dr. Melvin Douglass feels its his responsibility to see that communities of color in the state get their fair share of funding for access to cultural enrichment.
The statewide board oversees all public and university libraries, museums, archives and public television stations. Douglass was appointed to the board in June of this year.
The purpose of the Cultural Education Trust Board is to prepare and recommend plans in cooperation with the commissioner of education to the director of the budget to enhance public displays of collections and exhibits. The board is also responsible for the allocation of $100 million.
Born in Harlem, Douglass always used resources like libraries in his neighborhood. "My father would always take me to the Schomburg," he said. "There were a lot of things in New York City. It doesn't seem that our people are frequenting the libraries like they should."
Douglass received a track scholarship and graduated from the historically Black Tuskegee University in Alabama, where he earned his bachelor's degree in education. While at Tuskegee, he learned valuable lessons on what it means to know about history.
"Our professors used to say to us that Carter G. Woodson and other historians would say, unless you appreciate your history, you really have no idea of who you are and what type of contributions you have made. In converse, if people see you as non-producers, they begin to treat you in a way in which you have less significance."
Tuskegee was only the beginning of a road of schooling that would turn him into a trusted scholar. Douglass continued his education at the all-Black Morgan State University, where he earned his master's degree. He returned to his native New York to earn another master's at New York University and finally a third master's and doctorate at Columbia University.
While he attended Black colleges and predominantly white intuitions equally for his education, Douglass is a strong advocate for the relevance of Black colleges today.
He said, "Had it not been for the education that I received at Tuskegee and Morgan State, NYU and Columbia would have eaten my alive. As W.E.B. Dubois said, 'I did not go to Harvard to interact with my fellows. I went to Harvard to learn what they had to teach me.' That's how I felt. I knew what I was there for and I was well prepared no matter what they threw at me."
A world traveler, Douglass' pursuit of knowledge has taken him to faraway places, including studying at Cambridge University in England and the Goethe Institute in Germany and as a Fulbright Scholar in Japan.
Under his belt is a 30-year career of teaching, ranging from elementary school to educating at the collegiate level. He currently serves as a professor at the New York Institute of Technology, where he teaches educational research. Douglass is also on the planning committee of the Ph. D program that is launching at the school in 2011.