Dr. Howard Dodson, Aysha Schomburg

*The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research unit of the New York Public library and the nation’s premier repository of materials, items and treasures documenting the history, culture and experiences of people of African descent, celebrated its 85th anniversary on the 137th birthday of the Center’s visionary founder and 20th century historian-scholar Arturo Alfonso Schomburg on Monday, January 24, 2011 at Aaron Davis Hall on the campus of The City College of New York.

The milestone anniversary gathering also served as a tribute to the museum’s former director Howard Dodson, Jr., who retired from his position in February 2011 after over 26 years of developing the Center into the world’s leading and most prestigious repository for materials and artifacts on the global Black experience.

During the stellar celebration guests were introduced to Dr. Dodson’s replacement, Dr. Khali Gibran Muhammad who begins a new chapter in the history of the Schomburg in July 2011.  In an emotional moment, Dr. Dodson presented the incoming director-designate with a ceremonial symbolic “key” to the Schomburg kingdom to a standing ovation.

This was an evening filled with thoughts of yesterday’s visions and today’s victories that included moving tributes to Dr. Dodson including the debut of  “Transformations,” a multimedia production of dramatic readings and music, and vocal and dance performances, poignantly accented by a video montage on three large screens of historic images from the Schomburg files.

Dr. Howard Dodson presents symbolic key to the Schomburg kingdom to Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad

Directed by Tony and Emmy Award winner George Faison from a script by Khephra Burns, the production celebrated 20th century African, African-American and African Diasporan achievements that have led to 21st century triumphs.

The production featured platinum performances by La Chanze and Avery Brooks who also served as hosts, Ashford & Simpson, Genovis Albright, Bertilla Baker, Maurice Chestnut, Andre DeShields, Eli Fountain, Jay Hoggard, Ebony Jo-Ann, Lillias White, Alyson Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Kim Yancey-Moore, Sherry Bronfman, and the Cicely L. Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts concert choir directed by Norma Jean Hughes, among others.

In a special salute to Dr. Dodson’s unwavering commitment to save and share Black history for generations to come, Dr. Paul LeClerc, president, New York Public Library, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Gordon J. Davis and Diana Lachatanere, the Schomburg’s assistant director for special collections and services, presented him with the Center’s Africana Heritage Award, a bronze replica of Meta Warrick Fuller’s “Ethiopia Awakening.”

The sumptuous gala dinner was catered by Spoonbread, Inc. under the direction of its founder and president Norma Jean Darden; and the beautiful floral arrangements were designed by The Daily Blossom, under the supervision of CEO Saundra Parks.

It took many angels to put this heavenly event together.  Dr. Paul LeClerc, Dr. Chinua Achebe, Dr. Maya Angelou, NYPL board chair Catherine Marron and H.E. Sidney Poitier served as honorary chairs.  Raymond J. McGuire, Dr. Henry Louis Gates and Gordon J. Davis served as chairs.  Aysha Schomburg, the great granddaughter of the Center’s founder, served as a vice chair along with Lewis Cullman, Dr. Bettye R. Fletcher, Debra L. Lee, Dr. Marcella Maxwell, Elizabeth Rohatyn, Mrs. Frederick P. Rose, and Darren Walker.

Over 600 luminaries attended this stellar party including: Michael Henry Adams, Dr. Stanton Biddle, Dr. Roscoe Brown, Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, Ruby Dee,  Hazel N. Dukes, Toni Faye, Barbara Fleischman, Louise Grunwald, Susan Fales-Hill, Rev. James Forbes, Thelma Golden,  Mrs. William G. Greaves, William Allen Henry, Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad, Susan Morgenthau, Ozier Muhammad, Dr. Robert O’Meally, Sen. Bill Perkins, Jonelle Procope, Katherine Rayner, Jacqueline Patten-Van Sertima, Walter Shay, Dean Schomburg, Susan L. Taylor, Gerri Warren-Merrick, Hon. Dudley Thompson, Terrie Williams, and many more.  (Photos by Terrence Jennings)

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.