The Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ) Cumberland Campus Library has long been at the forefront of providing students, faculty and community members access to information that helps them view the world through a diverse and inclusive lens. The Library continues in its educational role by inviting the public to discover hidden history through its Afrocentric Collection.
According to Kat Givens, part-time librarian at the College, the Afrocentric Collection is an ever-expanding educational resource filled with books, DVDs, and CDs. It is also accompanied by the Afrocentric Studies and African American Studies Resource Guides. “We also have an Antiracism Resource Guide created by librarian Kelly Hayden,” Givens acknowledged.
The RCSJ Library Afrocentric Collection started off from humble beginnings.
“In 2016, we began working with (RCSJ adjunct professor) Donna Pearson on resources for her Cultural Diversity course,” RCSJ-Cumberland Head Librarian Patti Schmid explained. “Eventually, I found and read two books: George G.M. James’ Stolen Legacy and Ivan Van Sertima’s They Came Before Columbus.
“These titles initiated a seismic shift in the Library’s collection development trajectory as well as my own education,” Schmid continued. “I was jettisoned into a different worldview and history that had been hidden by Eurocentric intent.”
“Patti Schmid has always been very forward-thinking in acquisitions for the library,” said Pearson, a catalyst for the collection. “When I began teaching Cultural Diversity, I wanted to add a new dimension in addition to the required text. I reached out to Ms. Schmid about the possibility of making certain books available for my classes. Among the titles were classics by Dr. Yosef Ben-Jochannan and John Henrik Clarke.”
After receiving valuable input from a variety of human resources on the Cumberland campus, Schmid began amassing the materials that have become an important resource for many. “Ms. Schmid has developed and expanded this collection to become one of the most inclusive collections in the area,” Pearson declared.
RCSJ’s Afrocentric Collection includes children and young adult literature, history, Afrocentric fiction, Afrofuturistic fiction, women’s history, LGBTQIA+, music and more. According to Schmid, for the last few centuries, much of the history of people of African descent has been falsified, distorted, and concealed. The librarians and Pearson articulated the significance of having this culturally diverse collection available to all.
“It is incredibly important for wide dissemination of and access to this material,” said Schmid. “It seems as though many people don’t know about this information, including people of African descent. When histories are intentionally hidden by writers with an agenda, the stories are lost, and the material becomes fugitive.”
“We can’t expect people of all backgrounds and cultures to have access to historical truth when curriculums in public schools and higher education are whitewashed with resources filtered through a Eurocentric, heterosexual male lens,” Givens added. “It reinforces racism and oppression in our society.”
“The purpose of teaching Cultural Diversity is to give all students a chance to learn about the many cultures and experiences that make up our multicultural world,” said Pearson. “In order for students to fully understand ‘diversity’ they have to have access to the resources needed to learn. This collection provides that access.”
The Afrocentric Collection gives RCSJ students, faculty, and community members an opportunity to glean information about history from a different perspective. While putting this collection together, Schmid, Givens and Pearson discovered poignant nuggets of information not widely known by the general public.
“I have learned of ancient temples that were African centers of science and math,” Schmid revealed. “I have learned about ancient African civilizations (pre-Greek and Roman) that were sophisticated urban centers. I have learned that many of the origin stories of western religions are based on ancient Africana oral histories and stories.”
“African and African American culture has a history before and a history after slavery,” said Givens, who suggested people should read books like, The First Americans Were Africans: Revisited and Njinga of Angola: Africa’s Warrior Queen. “Before Europeans colonized and enslaved the African continent, there were civilizations and societies far more advanced than those found in Europe, such as the intellectual treasures of Timbuktu and the Mali Empire, as well as the gifts ancient Egypt (Kemet) gave to civilizations reaching up to the present.”
“I have learned that so much African American history did not begin in 1619 and that there is a wealth of information available,” Pearson noted. “Learning about our history through an Afrocentric lens gives greater depth and meaning to our current existence.”
Schmid and Givens shared that they felt they have been deceived their entire lives after uncovering some of the truths that have been hidden by numerous historians and the education system, and believe the Afrocentric Collection is an invaluable tool in bringing different cultures together. Pearson agreed.
“This collection contains a wealth of information that gives credence to the fact that we are all, no matter what our background, interconnected,” Pearson explained. “Students have been amazed by the information that this collection offers, not only in titles but in visual media, as well. The one comment that I have consistently received from students is, ‘I never knew that.’ ”
For more information about the RCSJ-Cumberland Library Afrocentric Collection, visit RCSJ.edu/Library/Cumberland.