A pre-dedication ceremony was held yesterday evening at the Africana Studies and Research Center (AS&RC) to celebrate the expansion of the Center and the completion of the construction of its new facilities. The center was in need of serious repair, and underwent renovation in June, 2004. A new 5,840 square foot building was also built to house a multi-purpose room as well as the center’s John Henrik Clarke Library.
As Ithaca-based master drummers Edward Biko Smith and Maurice Haltom began the evening with their music, Prof. Salah M. Hassan, Africana studies, who is acting director of the AS&RC, welcomed guests to the celebration.
Noting that the renovations coincided with the 35th anniversary of the Center’s founding as well as the Willard Straight Hall takeover at Cornell, Hassan said, “we have every right to celebrate [this] great accomplishment.”
He gave an overview of the new building, which is now handicapped-accessible, has four seminar rooms and meets the programming needs for students and community members all across campus. In addition, Hassan said that the new building “incorporated the essence of African cultures and Diaspora, [through the use] of textures, colors and art work.”
He credited the many students, faculty and community members who “maintained, developed and called for the expansion [of the Center] … Cornell is now a better place, and the building of the center is just one sign.”
Hassan extended his gratitude towards Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin, who also attended the event, for her “leadership [and] true commitment to African studies and the African-American community.”
Martin, who said that the construction of the center has been “a long time coming,” said that she was honored to have been able to play a part in the development of the AS&RC, and hoped that the center would further “inspire a vibrant intellectual community.”
Prof. James E Turner, Africana studies, founder of the AS&RC, welcomed guests by recalling an incident which occurred in 1981 when racial slurs were painted across three windows of the center and several windows were shot out through pellet gun firing.
Since then, Turner said, “the building has been repaired [and has] reemerged with a new spirit.”
Turner stated that the renovation of the old center as well as the addition of the new facilities “symbolically binds history [with the] future; [the building] pays homage to all the students, faculty and staff who have passed through the corridors, and the memory and history of all who have passed through.”
After months of being relocated to various parts of campus as construction was taking place, Turner emphatically proclaimed, “we are back!”
The center, which serves both undergraduate and graduate students, is more than “just a place or a building” for Diana Martha Louis ’05, who is majoring in Africana Studies and English at Cornell. In her address, she called the center a “symbol of my ancestors’ quest for knowledge and intellectual thirst, struggle for social excellence, and a symbol of their sacrifice for [her] physical, social and intellectual freedom.”
Members of the Ithaca community were also present at the evening’s celebration. Abraham Lee ’73 and Denise Lee ’73 spoke about their memories of the center.
“[The] center exposed us to [the] influential personalities of our time” throughout the years, Abraham said.
In an emotional speech, Denise recounted that her classes with Prof. Turner “took her back to [her] homeland, the African continent”. She further praised Turner’s efforts to reach out to the downtown Ithaca community, especially the young children.
The evening concluded with libation and washing rituals performed in accordance with the African tradition by High Priestess Dorothy Desir, who gave blessings to the faculty and those present at the ceremony.
“Those here with our eyes already open must open them more,” she said in her sermon.
A formal dedication of the Center will be held on April 29, 2005.
Archived article by Samira Chandwani
Sun Staff Writer