Celebrating Cenla’s Heritage: The African-American Culture Heritage Center

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Celebrating Cenla’s Heritage: The African-American Culture Heritage CenterThe Rapides Parish Library, under the direction of Celise Reech-Harper, and with the advisement of internationally-recognized artist Morris Taft Thomas, proudly announces the creation of the first repository devoted exclusively to the African-American community in Cenla. The Central Louisiana African American Culture and Heritage Center (AACHC) will tell the story of the cultural, economic, and artistic contributions that African-Americans from Central Louisiana have made here and on the world stage. “Our research has indicated that there were no public libraries listed in the State of Louisiana that have ownership of such a private collection of visual arts that are painted by noted national and international master artists,” says Thomas, a leader in the development of the AACHC. “What a blessing, what a gift and what an honor in times like these to be able to assemble such a collection in such an institution; this is history at the highest level.”

Celebrating Cenla’s Heritage: The African-American Culture Heritage CenterAccording to Center Coordinator Karen Riley Simmons, Rapides Parish Library Adult Services and Outreach Manager, this center will collect the stories and histories of African-Americans in the region that, prior to this time, have been fragmented and largely un-catalogued. “We felt the time had come to develop a way to highlight Black History not only for one month but for every month,” Mrs. Simmons notes. “This vibrant institution will be a cohesive way for anyone to find information on the Black leaders and the Black community as well as a method of promoting and displaying that knowledge for all, especially our younger generation.” In addition, the Center, which will be housed at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Branch of the Rapides Parish Library—next to Peabody Magnet High School—will provide a space to capture and celebrate those stories. One of the highlights will be a curated portrait gallery honoring African-Americans of Central Louisiana who have exceptional achievements in industry, government, and culture. Under Mr. Thomas’s guidance and utilizing his personal relationships with top national and international artists, six world-class artists have contributed the first thirteen portraits for this unique repository.  These artists are:

Edward Barnes: A native of Baton Rouge, Barnes is equally proficient in sculpture, portraiture, still life, seascape and landscape in whatever medium he uses. His respected work can be found in both private and corporate collections throughout our country.

Kylen Guilbeaux: Also known as Ky Beaux, Mr. Guilbeaux is a nationally celebrated contemporary artist who is deeply connected to our region’s rich cultural heritage. Working in digital and graphic realms, photography and animation, Guilbeaux skillfully blends these disciplines to create emotionally evocative masterpieces. His art serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of representation and cultural appreciation in America.

Fannietta Johnson: A nationally-recognized artist, Johnson is a graduate of Peabody Magnet High School and began her artistic endeavors in grade school. “My main interest in becoming an artist was to be able to sell my artwork and crafts in order to support a charity for children who are less fortunate than others,” Johnson says. “I have tried to leave a valuable principle to our younger generations and to strive to be and to do all that you dream.”

Joseph Anthony Pearson: Mr. Pearson, like his fellow artists contributing portraits, is well-known in the artist and museum community. A native of Mississippi, Pearson has worked at the Stennis Space Center as an illustrator and has taught at a dozen schools and institutions. Now an artist in residence in North Carolina, Pearson says, “An artist as contributor can bring inspiration, joy and interaction to communities.”

Dr. Clarence Talley, Sr.: A Fulbright-Hays scholar to Africa, Dr. Talley has had his work on display in one man shows nationally and internationally. Now living and teaching in Texas, this Peabody graduate says, “My training has taken me in two directions: art and theology. Art was my earlier passion and theology, which came later, undergirding my creative efforts. Art is everything and everything is art.”

Crystal Ann Talley: Ms. Talley has traveled the world in pursuit of inspiration. “I have absorbed the various arts and culture which have to this day help shape my philosophy and methodology as a practicing artist,” Ms. Talley shares. A leader in electronic art, Ms. Talley is considered one of the pioneers in this new age of artistic design.

The artists’ subjects, role models and icons of the Central Louisiana community, are:

Celebrating Cenla’s Heritage: The African-American Culture Heritage Center

Arna Wendall Bontemps

A poet, novelist, historian, anthropologist and archivist, Bontemps, born and partially raised in Alexandria, is known throughout the world as a leader in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s and 30’s. Bontemps never forgot Alexandria and his childhood home here is preserved and is now a mecca for lovers of African American literature.

 

Celebrating Cenla’s Heritage: The African-American Culture Heritage CenterPrincipal David Iles

A former student at Peabody High School, Iles would return to teach at the school in 1934, retiring as principal in 1972. Beloved by everyone who knew him, Iles advanced the cause of education in the black community to make Peabody a leading school in Louisiana as it remains today.

 

Celebrating Cenla’s Heritage: The African-American Culture Heritage CenterJ. B. LaFargue

Professor John Baptiste LaFargue is a preeminent figure in Louisiana education. He emphasized the need for public, accessible education for all people and was the leader in the South for developing educational opportunities for African Americans in a time when such was non-existent.

 

Celebrating Cenla’s Heritage: The African-American Culture Heritage CenterColonel Katrina Lloyd

Col. Lloyd has made history in the Louisiana National Guard on several levels, most notably for her promotion to her rank as colonel as a woman of color in a traditionally male-dominated organization. A native of Alexandria, Col. Lloyd is one of the most honored members of our state’s military today.

 

Celebrating Cenla’s Heritage: The African-American Culture Heritage CenterOliver “Ollie” Overton

Overton, a lifelong resident of Alexandria and a graduate of Peabody High School, is a longtime Rapides Parish Police Juror for District “F” and has served as a past president of the police jury. Mr. Overton is still serving his community in many leadership roles in organizations throughout Central Louisiana.

 

Celebrating Cenla’s Heritage: The African-American Culture Heritage CenterJuan Pierre

Raised in Alexandria, Pierre played in Major League Baseball from 2000-2013 for the Colorado Rockies, Florida/Miami Marlins, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies. During his career, he stole 614 bases, the 18th most in MLB history.

 

Celebrating Cenla’s Heritage: The African-American Culture Heritage CenterDr. James Jordan Prestage, Jr.

Prestage, a graduate of Peabody High School and veteran of World War II and the Korean War, was a Distinguished Professor at Southern University and set up the first electron microscope in Louisiana. He led the creation of a Computer Department at the university and served as the first director of the department.

 

Celebrating Cenla’s Heritage: The African-American Culture Heritage CenterDr. Jewel Limar Prestage

Raised in Alexandria, Dr. Prestage would eventually rise to become Dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Southern University. Under her leadership, she guided numerous graduates, including PhDs, lawyers, judges, elected officials, administrators, military officers and business executives across a distinguished career.

 

Celebrating Cenla’s Heritage: The African-American Culture Heritage CenterNatalie Desselle Reid

Alexandria-native Reid entered the entertainment industry at an early age and has become a well-known fixture on television and in movies. Among her many screen credits, she appeared as Halle Berry’s sidekick in the movie “BAPS”. She has worked with major stars over the years, including Whitney Houston and Whoopi Goldberg.

 

Celebrating Cenla’s Heritage: The African-American Culture Heritage CenterReverend Larry Douglas Smith

A native and longtime resident of Alexandria, Rev. Smith has served as the first African-American president of the Louisiana Council of Criminal Justice. During his long career in corrections, he has received four gubernatorial appointments, numerous awards, and was second in charge of the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

 

Celebrating Cenla’s Heritage: The African-American Culture Heritage CenterDr. Clarence Talley, Sr.

Dr. Talley, a Fulbright-Hays scholar to Africa, has had his work on display in one man shows nationally and internationally. He has served for over forty-five years on the faculty at Prairie View A&M University in Texas. Dr. Talley has also contributed a painting of Professor Iles for this exhibit.

 

Celebrating Cenla’s Heritage: The African-American Culture Heritage CenterAmos Wesley, Jr.

Wesley is one of the men who served our country honorably during World War II with the famed Tuskegee Airmen, serving as their aircraft mechanic. His superior performance in 1943 led him to be trained as one of the first Black aircraft inspectors. After the war, he became the first Black sheriff’s deputy in Rapides Parish.

 

Celebrating Cenla’s Heritage: The African-American Culture Heritage CenterDr. Romel C. Wrenn

Dr. Wrenn is one of the leading cardiologists in the nation. A graduate of Tulane Medical School, Dr. Wrenn spent his early years practicing internal medicine as a member of the Army. He is now Medical Director of the Heart and Vascular Center in Fairbanks, Alaska and is Chairman of the Department of Cardiology there.

 

Celebrating Cenla’s Heritage: The African-American Culture Heritage CenterAs Martin Luther King, Jr. Library Branch Manager LaKeisha Henton stated when speaking of the impact of housing this valuable new resource, “There is so much talent and opportunity in our community. There is a dream to be realized, and we are blessed to be a part of it.”  Henton, along with the other members of the planning committee—Lenna Mouton, RPL Direct Services Coordinator; Public Relations & Marketing Manager Sandie Buller; Artist Fannietta Johnson; Celise Reech-Harper, Karen Simmons, and Morris Taft Thomas—invite the community to attend the Grand Opening of the Portrait Gallery and the opening of the African-American Culture and Heritage Center.  This history-celebrating and history-making event will take place on Saturday, February 24th, starting at 11:00am at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Branch of the Rapides Parish Library, located at 1115 Broadway Avenue. Please R.S.V.P. by (318) 445-3912. Everyone is invited and encouraged to attend as we celebrate Cenla’s Heritage at the brand new African-American Culture Heritage Center.