By Olumide Ebimo Amungo
I had a fleeting encounter with a little boy who opened my eyes to the Brooklyn Library System
I had just moved into an apartment on Bradford Street by New Lots Avenue in East New York and went for my first walk around the neighborhood. I arrived from the dainty and verdant streets of East 56 Street just off Flatland Ave., my first place of abode in New York. At the time of my arrival, I did not know that East New York area was one of the toughest neighborhoods in New York, with one of the highest murder rates and various problems with crime associated with unemployment and drug abuse. I only noted that the neighborhood was not as clean as where I was relocating from.
I was around New Lots and Livonia Avenues from Barbey to Schenck Streets approaching the African Cemetery on the other side of the road when a few paces ahead of me a car stopped and a young African-American boy of about 10 years bounded off the passenger side, flung open the back the door, and took out some books. He stacked them in a pile of about eight and though struggling, was eagerly hurrying into a building beside me. The driver of the car, a man I presumed to be his father or possible elder brother, went to the same back door, opened it and brought out more books. I took a look around and noticed that we were beside a library.
The young boy ran past me and just as he was about to dash into the library l engaged him.
“Did you read all those books” I asked astonished “Yes I did” he retorted. “And there are still more at home” He added. I noticed the man smiling as he followed the boy into the library.
I went on with my walk but made a mental note to visit the library. A few days later I went to take a look at the library. I followed a mother and her child in and was immediately struck by the vastness, airiness and cleanliness of the place. The library was full with people reading books and working on computers. As I sauntered in I got a welcoming smile from a tall, African-American man in a blue uniform. He was in charge of security. I wanted to know more about the library I told him. He pointed me to two librarians who were attending to a queue of people borrowing and returning books. I told him I knew he could tell me more about the library.
The security man took on his new responsibility as a guide with pride and seriousness and told me that The New Lots Library is one of 59 in the Brooklyn Library System which is the 5th largest in America. Brooklyn Library System has one of the highest program attendance of any public library system in the United States. The New Lots library, he said, is not only a place of learning, but also a community center that runs programs for children and adults who are preparing for various exams including US citizenship exams. Among the best-known features is a learning center that helps adults develop literacy skills to meet their personal, educational and employment goals.
I took a stroll around the place and watched as the patrons soaked in what they were reading. The contrast was stark, while the neighborhood was dull and dingy, the library was gay and bright. It became clear to me that the New Lots Library is a vista of hope, because education is a lifeline from poverty and all those making use of it were hoping for enlightenment and the illuminating and uplifting rewards of education that will translate to better jobs and transform their lives. That may explain why it is heavily patronized by the locals.
I thanked the friendly security man, who was now in a playful banter with some children, and left.