The New Orleans Public Library will open a new multi-use community center focused on Black culture and community. The REACH Center, anticipated to open in early 2024,  is an extension of the library’s African American Resource Collection. The center will be located in the city’s 7th Ward and will feature a public art gallery, co-working space, and a community event and resource center.

“I think it’s exciting that it has become a real commitment in the library to offer these services to the community,” said Shukrani Gray, African American Resource Collection and Equity and Inclusion librarian for New Orleans Public Library.

The African American Resource Collection was founded in 1997 to provide educational resources to the African American community in New Orleans. The AARC was originally located on the second floor of the main library on Loyola Avenue. However, in 2017, the resource center was reduced to a small collection, in its place the library installed a tech center for teens that includes a recording studio and a computer lab, Gray said. 

The new REACH center will be housed inside of the Corpus Christi Epiphany Church Community Center at 2022 St. Bernard Avenue. The space was chosen intentionally, said Gray, who wanted the REACH center to be in a historically African American community that was centrally located. She learned of the church’s empty community space and jumped at the opportunity to have the center there. 

Shukrani Gray, pictured on Sept. 6, 2023, is the New Orleans Public Library’s Equity and Inclusion librarian. She will lead the library’s new REACH Center scheduled to open in 2024 in the 7th Ward. Credit: Photo Courtesy Shukrani Gray

“A lot of people have expressed that they have a connection to Corpus Christi as a part of the community. It’s right next to our other branches,” Gray said of the church. “I thought it was a great idea and we started to make it work.”

The REACH Center is funded through the New Orleans Public Library’s operating budget, including REACH staff salaries, office equipment and monthly lease. The library’s fiscal administrator said the monthly lease of the REACH Center is $3,689 and office equipment totaled more than $20,000. Capital One Bank and the Friends of New Orleans Public Library, headed by Shannan Cvitanovic, provided financial support to the center’s programming including pop-up programs throughout the month of September.

“Shukrani and her team already have a history producing exceptional programming because of their deep connection to the community, particularly to local artists, authors, and teachers,” Cvitanovic said. “Not only do their programs meet community needs, but they are joyful, celebratory and culturally rich.”

The new center is part of the library’s 10-year strategic plan to create equitable access for residents of New Orleans. The plan includes hosting library pop-ups at schools and recreational centers along with expanding their digital library services. The plan also includes a larger collection of fiction and nonfiction books written by local writers from the African Diaspora.

The REACH Center, pictured here on Sept. 6, 2023, will be located inside the Corpus Christi Epiphany Church Community Center at 2022 St. Bernard Avenue. It will open to the public in 2024. Credit: Khalil Gillon/Verite News

Though the REACH center is not scheduled to open until  2024, the center’s pop-up events are designed to introduce the community to the new initiative. Four events will take place throughout the month of September, including an African dance and drum workshop, artist talk by LaVonna Varnado Brown and an opportunity for entrepreneurs to get free headshots by New Orleans’ photographer CFreedom

Gray described the opening of the new REACH center as a momentous occasion.

“We are now having our own space again and we are really excited about it,” Gray said. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities helped fund the REACH Center. The REACH Center is fully funded through the New Orleans Public Library operating budget. The story has been updated with the correct information.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Help inform our coverage as we build a newsroom for and by the people of New Orleans:

Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts with us by answering each question.

Khalil Gillon is a New Orleans native from Algiers. He attended Thomas Jefferson High School and is a graduate of Louisiana State University in political journalism. Passionate about politics, Gillon ran...