Dr. Raymond Codrington takes his place as the new president and CEO of Brooklyn’s Weeksville Heritage Center (WHC). The historic landmark in Crown Heights was one of the nation’s first free Black communities during the 19th century and played a pivotal role in the abolition of slavery.
Codrington comes to WHC after an over five-and-a-half year stint as executive director of Hi-Arts, an East Harlem-based urban arts movement organization. During an interview with the AmNews, Codrington said his new role is his dream job and he plans to bring all of his past work to maintaining WHC.
Weeksville was once one of the largest free-African American pre-Civil War communities in the nation. Today, the two-acre site hosts exhibitions, tours and educational programs highlighting the history of post-Civil War Black life. WHC features the Hunterfly Road Houses on the land where freed Blacks lived during the 1860s.
“It really feels like I’ve come full circle,” he said “I’m beyond thrilled. It’s an incredible time for Weeksville as an institution. There’s a lot of excitement. I don’t take the job lightly and there’s a lot I think about that got Weeksville to this point. Weeksville has always been an institution that’s been grounded in the community.”
Born in Nottingham, England, Codrington’s parents are Jamaican immigrants who settled in the United Kingdom. His family moved to Galveston, Texas when he was nine splitting time between the U.S., England and Jamaica. He came to New York in 1994 to attend graduate school at the CUNY Graduate Center earning a doctorate degree in cultural anthropology.
Over the years, Codrington has conducted research in the U.S. and U.K., studying race, equity, hip hop, popular culture and civic engagement.
After grad school, he taught at Northwestern University in Chicago and worked at The Field Museum as a fellow where he curated an exhibit about youth and new technologies. Codrington also organized the “Hip Hop and Social Change” conference at the museum.
Moving to Southern California in 2004 he got his first position as a museum curator at Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County where he served as the founding director of the Julian C. Dixon Institute for Cultural Studies. While in L.A. Codrington also served as the curatorial consultant for Los Angeles’ Department of Cultural Affairs.
“I didn’t grow up going to museums outside of school trips,” he said. “I didn’t see them as a place that was welcoming to me growing up. To be able to start at The Field Museum was a good experience because while it was a big museum, there was space for me to explore exhibits. public programs and public engagement. I wanted to bring community voices into these institutions.”
Codrington moved back to New York in 2007 to work at The Aspen Institute’s Roundtable for Community Change as a project manager and later a senior research associate. He then went on to The New York Hall of Science’s Innovation Institute as an anthropologist-in-residence.
In 2015, Codrington was tapped to serve as executive director of Hi-Arts. While there, he expanded the organization, diversified its donor community and oversaw partnerships with local and national cultural organizations.
Codrington now has his sights set on his new task at hand at the Weeksville Heritage Center. Along with the historic Hunterfly Road Houses, the center has a 19,000-square-foot performance and educational program space with a café and library.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, like other cultural institutions, Weeksville has been closed for tours but is operating with limited programming. Upcoming events include a virtual financial literacy workshop and a virtual health-and-wellness event.
Codrington will oversee the Center’s management, programs, and partnerships and strategize to promote Black history and culture at the site. With his background in performance and visual arts, he wants to bring more of that to Weeksville while maintaining current programing.
“You feel the weight of the history of the place,” he said. “You can read about it, you can go online but nothing beats being there. I want to continue the public programs as Weeksville and think about innovative ways for the community to see themselves in our programming. I’m also thinking about different ways to use the outdoor space now that things are easing up with the pandemic. We’re going to create some interesting opportunities.”