There is a new 3,990-square-foot space for Hoosiers to soak in the vibrant history and novel achievements of individuals with African roots. Central Library’s much-anticipated Center for Black Literature and Culture (CBLC) will open its doors this Saturday, Oct. 21, with a celebration taking place from noon–3 p.m. Nichelle Hayes, special collections librarian and member of the Indianapolis Public Library’s (IndyPL) African-American History Committee, has been spearheading the Center’s development and overseeing the collection of 10,000 volumes that will be available at the Center, many of which were brought to life by local writers and artists. In addition to new books, the space will host author fairs, discussion forums, art exhibits, poetry slams, writers workshops and other interactive events.
Nichelle Hayes, special collections librarian and member of the Indianapolis Public Library’s African-American History Committee, spearheaded the development of the Center for Black Literature and Culture at Central Library.
“This space goes beyond books. We want it to be a place where you can gather and chill. Maybe it will be deep conversations, maybe it will be laughter or contemplation,” said Hayes. “We wanted to make sure we were bringing in the African diaspora. If you are from Nigeria and you live here, you don’t necessarily consider yourself an African-American; you may consider yourself an African or Nigerian-American. You can be Afro-Cuban, Afro-Puerto Rican, Afro-European; there are different nuances.”
Portraits adorning the walls of the space pay tribute to Black leaders, many of whom have local ties, such as musician Kenneth “Baby Face” Edmonds, journalist Amos Brown and athlete Tamika Catchings. The bookshelves include a diverse selection of reads, from books on Afro-futurism to biographies on civil rights icons.
Renowned journalist and political commentator Roland Martin will be the keynote speaker for the grand opening. Martin considers himself an avid reader, explaining that books allow individuals to explore places and philosophies that they would not have access to otherwise.
“I am always talking about the importance of reading, because that is how you are able to experience a world that you are not familiar with,” said Martin. “Former slaves understood that there must be something powerful about a book, about that knowledge. That’s why freed slaves were fervent in their desire for education.”
Martin, who has worked as executive editor for the historic Black newspaper The Chicago Defender in the past, thinks the center is important because it’s imperative that marginalized groups share stories of their reality.
“This year marks the 190th anniversary of the nation’s first Black newspaper. A comment from a lead editorial said it all when they said, ‘We wish to plead our own cause; too long have others spoken for us,’” said Martin. “I am all for inclusion, diversity and making sure our voices are in mainstream publications, news, books and places, but that cannot replace us telling our own stories. When we don’t own our own media, we cannot in any way control the narrative.”
The CBLC is all about helping the Black community control that narrative. The Center supports the work of the library’s African-American History Committee, an organization that works to present the diverse accomplishments of African-Americans to the general public and provide cultural programming at the library and around Indianapolis.
Hayes says the Center’s value goes beyond enriching the local Black community, because Black history is American history, too.
“If you are not aware, or did not have an inclusive education about history, you may think people of color haven’t done anything or provided anything to the country, and we know that is not true,” said Hayes. “We know that Black history is American history, is world history. We are not a museum, but especially at this time in our country’s history where people are talking about alternative facts, we want to give people resources and information to make judgments on their own. The CBLC is hoping to, in some small way, help spread education on that topic.”
For more information on the CBLC, visit indypl.org/cblc or call (317) 275-4100.