An ambitious lineup of events is shaping up at the Center for Black Literature and Culture (CBLC) at Central Library in downtown Indianapolis. “We’re trying to take small bites and deep breaths,” says Nichelle Hayes, the special collections librarian who is overseeing program plans that include panel discussions, a Slammin’ Rhymes Poetry Challenge, an artists’ gala and an authors’ fair. “We’re very much at the beginning, but ultimately I’d like us to host sessions that lead to positive action in the community.”

Hayes describes the Center as both a window and a mirror, available to everyone – regardless of race or ethnicity – who utilizes the 3,800 square-foot space. “We want the CBLC to be a window for people who are not of African descent to learn about, talk about and soak up black culture and history,” she says.

“We want it to be a mirror for people of African descent to see themselves reflected in the works of black icons who have influenced not only American but world culture.”

Supported by a $1.4 million Endowment grant, the CBLC attracted a standing-room-only crowd at its ribbon-cutting ceremony in October 2017. Patrons received a warm welcome, a quick tour and an enthusiastic invitation from library CEO Jackie Nytes, who urged visitors to “come back tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, but don’t come alone. Bring your children, your elders and your neighbors because we have something for everyone here.”

Nytes’ message of inclusiveness was echoed by opening guest speaker and Washington D.C.-based journalist Roland Martin. He challenged his audience to “make it your mission to bring one new person to the Center every month.” Stressing the importance of studying the past as a way to chart the future, he warned that the “CBLC can’t be all it should be if it’s simply a building. You must make sure that it comes to life. When you leave here, you leave with that charge.”

Although the library has a long tradition of providing a range of resources exploring the black experience, materials previously were scattered throughout the multi-branch system. “Over the years the collection hasn’t been curated as well as it should have been,” says Hayes. “That’s the void that the CBLC is filling.” Some 10,000 books – 20 percent are new acquisitions – now line the shelves, with ample room to grow. Hayes anticipates expanding the collection to 40,000 volumes but insists that her vision for the Center goes far beyond the books. “I’d like the CBLC to be a gathering place, on everyone’s lips as the best center for black literature and culture in the country.”

Initial feedback indicates progress toward that goal. Visitors on-hand at the center’s grand opening were invited to share their impressions in real time via Twitter. One enthusiastic library patron tweeted, “My hands are red and stinging from all the clapping I’m doing!”