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In response to the Coalition to Save the Schomburg's letter published in the Amsterdam News November 25

4/12/2011, 5:30 p.m.

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Ph.D.

Incoming Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Dear Friends,

I am deeply humbled by being appointed the shepherd of the single most important repository of African people's history. The Schomburg Center both preserves and embodies the legacies of so many ancestors who fought tirelessly to make the world a better place for Black people. There is no other institution I know of whose own history reflects so vividly the African struggle for self-definition and self-determination.

The Coalition to Save the Schomburg's activism for over two decades attests to the necessity for being vigilant guardians and custodians over our precious assets. In the Schomburg's collections of poems, letters, sheet music, maps and 16th-century histories of us written by us, are the glorious voices of our ancestors, guiding us from the darkness of the past to the brightness of the future. We are all accountable for ensuring that those voices are never silenced. We all play a role in protecting our children's inheritance.

We are all doing our part. The passions of this moment only attest to our collective commitment to our community and to the Schomburg.

As an historian of the Black experience in the United States, I have committed my adult life, since the age of 23, to challenging one of the most pernicious and enduring Euro-American popular and scholarly myths: That Black people are innately criminals. No other racist idea, since the end of slavery, has had the power to destroy so many Black lives.

My scholarship is a frontal assault on the idea of Black criminality, its genealogy and its consequences. My research engages the historical roots of the most challenging political and social issue of our time--mass incarceration. My work builds on the legacy of Arturo Schomburg: "The American Negro must remake his past in order to make his future. History must restore" not simply "what slavery took away," as Schomburg rightly observed 85 years ago. History, today, must restore what a century of segregation and racial criminalization is continuing to annihilate.

Real lives are at stake. I am unalterably determined to use my voice and my pen to save them, just as Dr. [Molefi] Asante has done so unflinchingly and so admirably for so long.

Like you, I am proud of my heritage. I am proud to claim Harlem and NYC as part of who I am. I spent half of my childhood summers ripping and running the streets of Jamaica, Queens, Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and Harlem, U.S.A. I spent all of graduate school across the Hudson River, and two years in a Manhattan-based criminal justice reform agency, studying these same communities--my communities--so that I could make the world a better place for my people.

Now that I know more about the Coalition, I also know now that I have friends and allies in the neighborhood. I look forward to meeting the members of the Coalition and learning more about what I can do to guarantee that the community's integrity continues to be a core value at the Schomburg Center.

Until then, Director Howard Dodson and I are working very closely together to ensure that the community, staff and I build trust in each other.

In Peace and Love,

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Ph.D.

Incoming Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture