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Howard Dodson - preserving our history

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    Howard Dodson - preserving our history -- “Human beings are historical beings,” says Howard Dodson, chief of the New York Public Library Schomburg Center
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 23, 2006
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      Howard Dodson - preserving our history

      “Human beings are historical beings,” says Howard Dodson, chief of the New York Public Library Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. “We have no existence outside of our history, outside of our past. If we don’t connect with our personal history, our family history, our community history, our group history, our national and international history, we don’t really know who we are at all.”
      Dodson, who’s led the largest historic Black Culture center for two decades, is clear on the importance of the past and the impact, the influence, it has on the future.
      “People want to take shortcuts and they may want to pretend that they’re autonomous beings, that they kind of popped out of the womb and became,” says Dodson, who received his master’s in U.S. history and political science from Villanova University in 1963. “That is not true for any human beings. It’s especially not true for African Americans because present-day African Americans exist because of the lives and struggles of people who came before us.”
      Dodson has built his personal legacy on advancing historical preservation and global education. In the 1960s, Dodson headed to Ecuador with the Peace Corps. The experience led him to begin directing minority recruitment for the humanitarian organization in 1967. Later, stints at the Institute of the Black World and consulting with the National Endowment for the Humanities further prepped him for his work with the Schomburg.
      For every individual Dodson says each day can involve a historical inquiry on multiple levels.
      “Ask questions,” he offers. “Ask questions about your family—relatives who are old and still alive and those who have passed on. Ask questions about your community. Ask questions about the way things use to be and how they changed to the way they are. Understand that nothing that we see has to be the way that it is.”
      He continues, “Understand that everything that we see, observe and experience is a product of some human action, some historical activity and ask the questions over and over again. Be leaders of your own lives and the realities that we try to live within.”
      Conceding that it is not always easy, the historian understandingly says with a warm smile, “Each of us has an obligation to honor, knowing what previous generations achieved with limited resources. We have to take what they’ve given us and take that to higher heights.” —renita q. ward
      To learn more about the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture visit,

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