Billed as a community conversation last week, “What’s Up @ the Schomburg?” obviously needs another round of discussion, if not a series, to cover all the issues and pertinent questions surrounding the renowned, 80-year-old institution.
Many community residents were happy that the internationally acclaimed center had taken steps to deal with a number of rumors circulating about its possible dispersal or removal from Harlem. “The Schomburg is here to stay and I’m not being forced out,” said Dr. Howard Dodson during his welcoming remarks.
Several weeks before, Dodson made it clear at the first forum hosted by the Coalition to Save the Schomburg that the center was not in jeopardy, and especially not under his watch.
“His watch,” which ends in February with his retirement, was then and apparently of continuing concern for some participants at the recent event. From their perspective, a better use of the allotted time would have given the community more of an opportunity to voice their concerns about the fate of the center.
After a rousing speech from Councilman Charles Barron and his demand that Temple University professor Dr. Molefi Kete Asante be the center’s next director and chief curator, the Afro-centric scholar’s name was chanted by a contingent of supporters.
Asante’s name resounded again during the question and answer session, despite riveting testimonials from such notables as Ruby Dee, Felipe Luciano, Aysha Schomburg, Ilyasah Shabazz, Dr. Ron Daniels, Nana Camille Yarbrough and Dr. Brenda Greene, to name a few.
Dee was particularly illuminating, recalling it was in the basement of the Schomburg that she launched her remarkable theatrical career as a member of Frederick O’Neal and Abram Hill’s American Negro Theater.
All that was well good, but even assuring comments from Dr. Paul LeClerc, president of the New York Public Library, and Raymond McGuire, a member of the Schomburg Committee that includes co-chair Dr. Henry Louis Gates, were not enough to offset Asante’s name from surfacing now and then from the crowd.
On one side of the auditorium was Omowale Clay and on the other side Dr. James McIntosh, both members of Save the Schomburg. They expressed deep reservations about the presence of Dr. Gates on the search committee, but they were even more passionate that Asante assume leadership upon Dodson’s departure.
“Look, I don’t want to get caught in the middle of all this, but I think the community ought to have some input in who takes over,” said one spectator, who asked that her name not be used. “The Schomburg belongs to us and I’m prepared to do all I can to keep it that way.”
A number of people from the audience didn’t get a chance to ask their questions, but Terrie Williams, the event’s coordinator, took pains to extend the time limits, but to no avail, and the only question that remains is, when is the second round of conversation?