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New Schomburg Head Welcomed to Harlem

By Jeff Mays | January 7, 2011 3:13pm

By Jeff Mays

DNAInfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — Khalil Gibran Muhammad doesn't officially take over as head of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture until July, but he was essentially handed the reins Thursday.

At a conference on black studies, Muhammad was welcomed by his peers this week — some of whom had originally questioned his appointment.

"Your success is more important to us than it is to you because of what this means to the community," said State Sen. Bill Perkins.

Muhammad, 38, is a professor of African-American history from Indiana University and the great-grandson of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. He is also the author of the well-regarded book, "The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern Urban America."

Despite Councilman Charles Barron questioning Muhammad's youth and experience, conference speakers including Rev. Calvin Butts and Assemblymen Keith Wright said his age was an asset.

"Time marches on and we have to be flexible enough to give way to the best and brightest among us," said Butts.

"Brother Muhammad, now that you have this vast responsibility, you should know that no one who has taken this job has stayed less than 25 years," Wright joked.

Muhammad said, "The Schomburg Center is a Harlem institution. It is a community place. It is a place that roots the Negro Mecca to the world, but it is time to share.

"We have the technology, we have the energy and, in my hands, we have the spirit to take these resources to the people who need them."

Barron said after the event that he was willing to work with Muhammad.

"He's in there and he ain't going no where, so we just want to sit down and make sure that he understands New York City politics and that he understands the importance of the Schomburg to our community," Barron said.

Muhammad met with 40 members of the Harlem community on Tuesday, including Councilwoman Inez Dickens. Barron said he and his group are also preparing to sit down with Muhammad.