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The Schomburg's 90th Anniversary Gala Marks a Magical Moment in its History

left to right - Schomburg Director Khalil Gibran Muhammad with gala honorees Franklin Thomas, Darren Walker, Norman Lear, Elizabeth Alexander, NYPL President Anthony Marx, and Mercer Cook, son of honoree Vernon Jordan

To say that the Schomburg Center's 90th Anniversary Gala was magical would be an understatement. Echoing one attendee's reaction, "It was enchanting." That sentiment reverberated around the Celeste Bartos Forum on September 28 at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, decked floor to ceiling in beautiful courtyard decor—channeling the elegance of an institution that has welcomed such legends as Langston Hughes, Ruby Dee, Jacob Lawrence, Maya Angelou and Chester Higgins through its doors.

As our guests including Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson, author Charles Blow, and photographer Deborah Willis, flooded the lobby in their lavish eveningwear, bustling with excitement for the night's festivities, many gathered around our exclusive commemorative exhibit that honored our 90-year history with more than forty items from our collections—from a manuscript of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to a James Brown button and an Augusta Savage sculpture maquette. That was just the beginning of an event that has continued to make headlines more than a week later. 

The lights dimmed as Anthony Marx, President of the New York Public Library, took to the stage for his opening remarks, followed by Schomburg Director Khalil Gibran Muhammad, who set the tone of the evening with an inspiring speech honoring the legacy of the Schomburg. Which was the perfect segue to this powerful video that captured the institution's remarkable history, wth special appearances by Schomburg curators and Junior Scholars, actor/activist Harry Belafonte, chef Marcus Samuelsson, and Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum of Harlem. 

Our emcees of the evening, Deborah Roberts and Al Roker, kept the momentum going by offering the floor to the night's honorees professor and poet Elizabeth Alexander, groundbreaking television producer Norman Lear, Ursula Burns, Chairman and CEO of Xerox, Vernon Jordan, Senior Managing Director of Lazard Frères & Co. LLC, and Franklin Thomas and Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation—who were each acknowledged for their contributions in the fields of Arts & Culture, Business Leadership and Philanthropy. 

And to cap off an already memorable evening, none other than First Lady Michelle Obama shared her gratitude of the Schomburg via a  moving video message that shed light on the significance of the cultural institution, offering a heartfelt congratulations for its National Medal win (it was Obama herself who presented the National Medal to the Schomburg at a White House ceremony in May). 

Even as guests filed out of the Bartos at the end of the gala, conversations of the night's events never wavered, which spoke volumes to not only the success of the evening but also how it ignited a deeper love and appreciation of an institution that is steadfast in its belief that "every month is black history month." With already 90 years behind it, the Schomburg will continue to not only collect history but also make history. 

What does the Schomburg Center mean to you? Tweet us @SchomburgCenter using #Schomburg90!

View our 90th anniversary photo album on the Schomburg's Facebook page

Photo credit: Terrence Jennings

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NYPL 90th Anniversary Schomburg fete

I was pleased to be able to close the ceremonies when I brought greetings to the gathering from the Schomburg family, including three grandsons, three great granddaughters and one great great grandson . The Schomburg family has not often been mentioned or been in the public consciousness with respect to our legacy and our support of the Schomburg Center. I was pleased to be able to let the 90th anniversary attendees know that we are here and we care. Our presence at the event was important in my estimation. .

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