On Sunday, January 17 the Kupferberg Center for the Arts at Colden Auditorim presented a special Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration featuring BeBe Winans. In the hour prior to the start of the performance, there was a short program in which Borough President Melinda Katz presented the Service to the Community Award to Andrew Jackson, Executive Director of the Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center.
The majority of the hour’s program was given to Keynote Speaker, Reverend Dr. Floyd Flake, Senior Pastor Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York. Senator Charles Schumer also spoke during the hour. Both speeches reflected on King Day, Race, Unity and Service. While it is great to be reminded of those things, the speeches diverted attention from the Community Service Award part of the program and missed a great opportunity to connect with Black History in the Making during an MLK themed event. Taking time to honor Jackson and his accomplishment would have put a focus on the next generation of leaders who are bringing the King Dream to life every day and on a more significant grass roots level.
Andrew Jackson has been a fixture at the Langston Hughes Library for over 35 years. During his tenure, the landmark library and cultural center has been a model for branches in Queens and throughout the nation.
“No other library in Queens, no other library period, has what we have,” said Jackson of the Black History collection housed within its walls. “We don’t discard anything on the Black Experience at Langston Hughes,” he said. Hughes holds over 45,000 volumes reflecting Black History.
Located in Corona, Queens, many in Southeast Queens might not have a ready opportunity to get to that collection. No worries. The Queens Library system allows online catalog viewing of all its branch offerings and items can be requested and then inter-loaned and sent to your local branch. Items that are checked out from Hughes, can also be returned to a local branch. While the library’s collection and gallery are impressive, they are not the only elements that put Jackson in the path of Black History in the making.
Jackson gives regular speeches at schools, civic meetings and gatherings on the importance of Black History. At a time when multiculturalism is rising and Black History programs are diminishing, Andrew speaks about the importance of individuals learning about their “people, their missions and their accomplishments”. At a time when people debate the diversity of Hollywood, Jackson speaks of films that should be supported “not just to support Black films but for history”. Jackson not only preaches it, he is a walking testament to cultural affirmation in his ever present, elegantly attired dashiki and matching kufi. He also goes by his African name, Sekou Molefi Baako.
Sekou is an author, a member of several boards and advisory committees, annually assists in the awarding of scholarships to Queens students and works as an adjunct professor at both York and Queens Colleges. For Jackson, Black History is not merely one month a year, but an ongoing effort to learn about one’s culture and history. There are individuals he believes do not understand the concept of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. “You and I are what the dream is about,” he said.
Being Black and proud are perhaps the best principles which Jackson provides as he moves throughout the community in demeanor and determined in purpose. §
Previously published in the February 2016 issue.