The New Orleans Public Library recently announced to plans to open a new multi-use community center in the 7th Ward, a historically Black neighborhood, as an extension of its African American Resource Collection (AARC).

The REACH Center is a new initiative from the Library that will feature a community event and resource center, free co-working space, and public art gallery, located inside building C of the Corpus Christi Epiphany Church Community Center at 2022 St. Bernard Ave.

Shukrani Gray, the NOPL’s African American Resource Collection and Equity & Inclusion Librarian, is leading the project. The AARC’s catalog will stay in its current home at Main Library, but the collection falls under the REACH Center umbrella. The collection was introduced in 1997 as part of Main Library’s African American Resource Center, which offered a variety of services aimed at addressing the informational, educational, and cultural needs of New Orleans’ Black communities.

For Gray, the project represents a return to the original vision of the African American Resource Center, which was downsized to a collection in 2017.

“Our big-picture vision is to offer resources and engagement in a space that is built for the local community, with their needs in mind,” Gray said. “Residents and businesses in this neighborhood have repeatedly voiced their desire for a free place to gather, learn, and grow together, and we’re so excited to start filling that need.”

Emily Painton, City librarian and executive director, said the REACH project signifies the Library’s commitment to serving community needs.

“We’re thrilled to be expanding the African American Resource Collection into a full-fledged center again,” Painton said. “Reimagining spaces to create open doors is a key part of our 10-year strategic plan and the REACH Center’s creation directly aligns with these goals.”

The Library and REACH Center anticipate celebrating a grand opening in early 2024, with popup events and limited hours available to the public in the meantime. While a grand opening date has not been finalized, the first popup is a community partner information session on Sept. 9. Other upcoming events include an art show, a dance class, and free headshots for small business owners and entrepreneurs. Each event will also feature a raffle for the chance to win a $25 gift card, courtesy of Capital One Bank and the Friends of New Orleans Public Library.

Community members can visit or call the REACH Center staff at 504-596-2597 for more information about popups and other services currently available.

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