Celebrating heritage

If kids don’t know what they are capable of, and where they came from, it’s hard for them to take pride in who they are.

That, according to the Rev. DC Darensbourg, is why Fort Dodge needs an African-American Cultural Center.

Darensbourg is the pastor of Second Baptist Church, which now contains a library with hundreds of titles on African American culture and history.

“The titles we have in the library are indexed as far as African American culture, social life and contributions,” Darensbourg said. “The African-American struggle, post-Civil War and pre-Civil War. I believe we have a couple works that cover pre-Civil War life and society, not just slavery.

“Of course we have titles that cover slavery extensively. We have social justice titles. We have African-American athletes and sports.”

About $7,000 worth of material is currently in the library, all donated. The library holds writings and history of prominent black people from Frederick Douglass to Colin Powell, W. E. B. Du Bois to 50 Cent. There are also black history DVDs.

The library can help people with their research assignments, Darensbourg said. The plan is to have groups of kids from the school system come in to learn more about black history.

“Not just the school systems – we want to offer it to places like the halfway house, the battered women’s shelter, the outpatient treatment facility in Fort Dodge,” he said. “We really want to partner with Iowa Central (Community College).”

A native of New Orleans, Darensbourg came to Fort Dodge in July 2011. He said he was driven to do something because there was no good way for African-American kids to learn their heritage.

“I discovered there was no curriculum in the school system that dealt with the contributions of African-Americans,” he said. “There’s no focus. There’s a mentioning of it once a year, maybe twice a year.

“What made America America was not only the contributions of Irish Americans and Italian Americans and Anglo-Saxons, but Africans as well.”

It’s important to focus on these contributions, not to discount the work done by other people groups, but because of “the historic, systemic exclusion of people of African decent from the school system, from our history books,” he said.

The first books started coming for the center in in late 2011, he said. Looking forward, the church will install bookcases to better display the collection. The cultural center will also begin holding annual events on topics such as black entrepreneurship and black participation in the political system.

Darensbourg said the first person he talked to about the center was Charles Clayton, who offered to help out.

“I was all for it,” Clayton said. “I told him anything I can do, either as director of (Athletes for Education and Success), and/or as part of the Martin Luther King committee I’d be willing to help out any way I could.”

The MLK Committee has a development fund to help minority businesses, he said, and will help pay the filing fees to get non-profit status for the Cultural Center.

“As Fort Dodge continues to grow and become more diverse, the more things you can have in your community that are working with, or at least showing respect, to diverse cultures, it can only help,” Clayton said.

“We want to educate African-American men, women, boys and girls to their cultural heritage. That’s our overarching goal,” Darensbourg said. “This is a unique country. Our contributions have been unique, and they are historic.”