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Head of Schomburg Center Leaving to Teach at Harvard

By Gustavo Solis | December 16, 2015 2:00pm
  Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the director of the research library will leave next summer.
Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the director of the research library will leave next summer.
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HARLEM — The head of the Schomburg Center is trading Harlem for Harvard. 

Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, who has led the center through five years of growth and change, will take a teaching position at Harvard University's Kennedy School and Radcliffe Institute in July, Amsterdam News first reported.

Under his leadership, the research library's budget has increased by 60 percent, several collections have been digitized, and more young people are attracted to the center, he said.

“The record growth we’ve experienced is due to millennials and 40-somethings who now see the Schomburg Center as a relevant institution in their lives,” he said.

One of the most visible areas of growth is the number of high-profile individuals who have visited the Schomburg. In the last two years the research library has hosted Ta-Nehisi Coates, Questlove, George Clinton, and Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

A video of Adichie's conversation with author Zadie Smith has been viewed more than 130,000 times.

Over the last couple of years, the Schomburg Center has also digitized their collection. This includes a series of menus from restaurants and night clubs from Harlem’s past, and the Green Book travel guides that highlighted Black-friendly cities and businesses during the Jim Crow era.

Some of the behind-the-scenes work Muhammad has overseen at the Schomburg Center is the expansion of their educational outreach programs.

They are developing a national curriculum focused on American history after the Civil Rights era using hip hop as the framework. The course will focus more on social, political, and economic forces that gave way to hip-hop rather than the music itself, he said.

Moving forward, they plan to create an exhibition space designed specifically for young people.

“We are building for the first time a youth exhibition gallery,” the director said. “The gallery will be a digital medial gallery that will have presentations that are age appropriate for people in middle school or high school for them to learn about out collection.”

When he leaves, Muhammad will be teaching at the Kennedy School of Government, which lists various presidents, prime ministers, and policy makers as professors. He sees the move as a natural continuation of his work in Harlem.

“The way I see it the work that my team and I have been doing at the Schomburg Center has been a terrific platform for talking about the importance of black lives, history, and culture,” he said. “This opportunity to be at the Kennedy School and Radcliffe Institute gives me a chance to train new leaders in non profits in the government space.”

An appointment committee will convene next year to pick the next director.