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Harvard professor and historian, Henry Louis Gates has become known for helping celebrities to discover their family origins, surprising many whose revelations are broadcast in his popular PBS special, ‘Finding Your Roots.’
A fascinating fact, of which many South Floridians may be unaware, is that they too, can discover their family roots because the African American Research Library and Cultural Center in Ft. Lauderdale has been providing the complimentary service since it opened more than 12 years ago.
Gates has helped celebrities, including actress Angela Bassett, Obama administration official Valerie Jarrett and Nas, one of the most prolific rappers in the country, to discover from whence they came.
Elaina Norlin, AARLCC Executive Director/Regional Library Manager, told the South Florida Times that people in the community can do the same because the library has a subscription to Ancestry.com that its patrons may access free of charge.
The sprawling 60,000 square foot center in the heart of one of Ft. Lauderdale’s historic black communities provides the community with more than 85,000 books, manuscripts, artifacts and documents; ensuring year-round access to black history.
Being able to delve deeply into where they’re from affords the library’s visitors the opportunity to personalize black history.
“If somebody came up and wanted to research their past, they could do that here. You see [ancestry.com] on television,” Norlin shared of the popular genealogical research service. “Families have come in to research their history.”
Aside from this valuable resource, the AARLCC also offers special collections, like Alex Haley’s unpublished manuscripts, and first editions of literature from prominent historic figures like W. E. B. DuBois, which Norlin said they’re pleased to offer.
In recent years, however, the AARLCC has placed a greater emphasis on capturing the history of people who helped build the community.
“We switched our focus to trying to capture our local history. What‘s happened in Broward County and what’s going on in Ft. Lauderdale. We have a lot of the oral histories that we’ve collected from our pioneers that are available at the library,” she shared.
Interested in knowing what was happening in Ft. Lauderdale in the 30s and 40s? The oral history at AARLCC can provide the answers, “directly from people’s voices, which is really great,” Norlin said.
The library also makes a concerted effort to keep black history accessible and entertaining year-round by offering destination themed events each month.
For the entire month of February the AARLCC will celebrate Bob Marley’s 70th birthday by spotlighting his life, “with a history of Jamaica in our gallery,” Norlin said.
The center also offers The Small Business Resource Center, which provides myriad services for the small business community, including guidance on creating business plans, small business databases, marketing and money matters.
A priceless resource with something for everyone, the AARLCC provides interactive children’s services and events, free wireless Internet access and a 5,000-square-foot art gallery.
For more information about the African American Research Library and Cultural Center, please visit http://www.broward.org/Library/LocationsHours/Branches/Pages/AA.aspx or call 954-357-6282.