When you hear ‘February’ what do you think of? Do you picture Valentine’s Day roses or maybe Punxsutawney Phil?
While the month of February has been officially designated Black History Month by every U.S. President since 1976, the importance of this annual celebration often goes overlooked—especially within educational institutions.
Here to help address this cultural ignorance is the Library at the A.J. Williams-Myers African Roots Center located in Kingston, New York.
African-American culture is American culture, and African-American discoveries are American discoveries, as the library director and board chair Odell Winfield likes to point out.
Housed in a former meat market in Kingston’s Ponckhockie neighborhood, Winfield opened the library back in 2017 and named it in honor of Dr. A.J. Williams-Myers, a retired chairman of the Black Studies Department at SUNY New Paltz.
Even though he began teaching at SUNY New Paltz in 1978, Dr. Williams-Myers’ roots to the Hudson Valley go back to when he was a child.
“I was 12-years-old at the time, and learned Sojourner Truth had been enslaved there [Hudson Valley]. My connection to the valley began with Sojourner Truth, and you could argue that she was my guardian angel from way back in 1952,” Williams-Myers told Hudson Valley One.
Winfield‘s admiration for Williams-Myers began when he first heard him at an anti-apartheid group meeting.
“His giving was unprecedented: If I called him, he was there. No question,” Winfield said in a Hudson Valley One article.
“I want to make sure everyone knows A.J. and want to keep his name here, because he is so much a part of everything.”
The library and center is a sister institution to the Sadie Peterson Delaney African Roots Library in Poughkeepsie, which was also created by Winfield. Like its sister library, the A.J. Williams-Myers African Roots Center Library’s mission is to promote literacy through teaching about the African roots experience, particularly in the Hudson Valley.
“I want to make sure young folks are grounded here,” Winfield said to Hudson Valley One. “I want to send a message that education can help you, rather than hurt you. Young people don’t have a sense of what history means to them, and we want to create connections to community, instead of just family and gangs.”
The library’s vision is “to honor and encourage the transmission of history through written and oral history, spoken word, paintings, cultural artifacts and other forms of artistic expression.”
To help with this venture, the library will be throwing an African-American festival this August.
With the U.S Department of Interior’s “400 Years of African-American History Act”—a bill that established the 400 Years of African-American History Commission to develop and carry out activities throughout the United States to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in the English colonies in 1619—the library will throw a festival and parade on Aug. 25, which will focus on culture through performances, activities and food.
“This is not a black library, for black people, this is for everyone,” Winfield told the Daily Freeman. “Everyone should be invited here.”
The Library at the A.J. Williams-Myers African Roots Center would not be possible without donations and volunteers. To learn more about the library and how you can help, visit www.africanrootscenter.org.