When reflecting on 2020 and the beginning of 2021, Protean Gibril is proud of the work she and well over 100 members of the African American Resources, Cultural and Heritage (AARCH) Society accomplished.
AARCH members have been busy collaborating with local architects and numerous other partners to develop a heritage center, which will be located in the former cycling studio in the parking garage on East All Saints Street in downtown Frederick.
Gibril, chair of the organization’s growth and development advisory committee, said a lot of pieces are coming together, an impressive feat given the way coronavirus has impacted people’s lives.
“I find it amazing that we’re able to get the amount of work we’re getting done in this pandemic,” Gibril said. “We’re trying to put together a heritage center in the middle of a pandemic. How often are you doing that?”
There are lot of moving parts to starting the heritage center, which is expected to have multiple exhibits, a theater area, graphic elements and other features, she added. They need to figure out how the space will flow and hire a director who will lead day-to-day operations. The center is scheduled to open in mid-2023, perhaps after some structural and cosmetic changes to the interior, Gibril said.
Two Frederick architects are helping AARCH with planning the layout of the center: Bruce Zavos, president of Zavos Architecture+Design, and John Matheis, vice president of Proffitt & Associates.
Both men said they’re doing thousands of dollars of work pro bono. It’s an easy decision, they said — telling the stories of African Americans through the heritage center is incredibly important.
Roughly two months ago, Zavos heard a presentation from AARCH President David Key at a lunchtime meeting of the Rotary Club of Frederick. It was a “mind expanding” experience to learn about AARCH’s mission and the heritage center.
His firm will help with conceptual drawings, architectural drawings and the overall permitting process. The space itself is suitable for AARCH’s mission.
“I think it’s vital to our community, and anything we could do—and the services we were willing to provide—we were willing to do,” Zavos said. “It was sort of an honorable endeavor, that’s kind of the way we looked at it. Our firm is very community-minded, and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity for us to reach out.”
Proffitt Associates was the architectural firm that built the parking garage where the heritage center will be located. Matheis said he is working with Zavos’ firm on those architectural plans and how the place will be used.
The location downtown, near Sky Stage, the Delaplaine Arts Center and the county’s visitors center—along with being attached to a parking garage—will benefit AARCH, he said.
Like Zavos, Matheis looks forward to learning more about AARCH as the project continues.
“They’ve talked high level with us about what they want to do, but specifically with the heritage center, I’m really excited to see,” he said. “Because they haven’t shared with us yet, some of these artifacts and some of these things they’re looking to highlight as part of this.”
Funding the center
When it comes to opening the heritage center, AARCH officials estimate start-up costs at about $1.25 million.
Gibril thanked Michael Paskowsky, grants writer for AARCH, for collecting considerable funds thus far. According to data provided by Paskowsky, just over $460,000 in grant funds and other money had been secured by the end of last month.
Another $395,000 is pending. Paskowsky, a retired project manager from the National Park Service, has been an AARCH member for roughly five years. His first involvement with the organization, helped lead to the creation of Wayside exhibits describing some African American history at Laboring Sons Memorial Park, along Chapel Alley between 5th and 6th streets in downtown Frederick.
Paskowsky is excited about support for the heritage center process and the recent growth of AARCH, both in its membership and awareness of the organization. That needs to continue, he said.
“Probably the biggest fear is that it’s one thing to open it, but it’s another thing to keep it open,” he said of the heritage center. “And probably the greatest fear is that we won’t have the support to continue operations. We need to make sure it is a sustainable and cherished institution in Frederick.”
Part of the current support is a $100,000 bond initiative led by Del. Carol Krimm (D-Frederick). Krimm said it was easy to support the project and AARCH, as discussions about a possible museum or heritage center were occurring back when she served on the Frederick Board of Aldermen.
“I’m so glad it has happened because it’s a long time coming ... the African American community is a very important part of our community, and I think it’s beneficial for the whole community to be able to use this resource going forward,” she said of the center.
What’s ahead for AARCH?Back in September, right before David Key and other AARCH members examined some recent donations from the old Pythian Castle, the president of AARCH reflected on the impact Black Lives Matter protests and related activities had on the organization.
Civil unrest was not new to Key—he remembers the aftermath of the beating of Rodney King, the death of Eric Garner in New York and several other high-profile deaths, including George Floyd in 2020.
It’s hard to figure out what changed in 2020, Key said. But he’s glad more people are facing racism and the dark side of the United States’ history head-on.
“I think for me, the important part of that is people are ready to say, ‘That’s not who we are,’” Key said in September. “And that’s also causing some of the division in the country, because there are people who want things the way they have always been. And people who may not have spoken up before, or perhaps may not even have been aware of the issues until it’s in your face.”
Key, Gibril and others hope the recent growth in AARCH membership and awareness of its mission, the heritage center and overall goals add to the conversation around African American history countywide.
Paskowsky, the grants writer, is thankful for efforts from multiple community partners, including the city of Frederick and county governments, which have focused on multiple racial equity initiatives in recent years.
The leadership of AARCH is sure to carry on the mission, he said—including the heritage center.
“I always say they are the memory keepers and the treasure keepers of the community, and that’s kind of what the heritage center is all about, is preserving their legacy in an authentic manner,” Paskowsky said. “It’s an opportunity for the African American community to tell their story in an authentic manner.”
As part of the work for the heritage center and organization’s mission at large, AARCH officials recently held two focus groups — one with mostly 18-24-year-olds and another with 10-13-year-olds — about what they want to see from the organization long term.
Gibril said these conversations were invaluable and, in part, emblematic of continuing the work of AARCH’s founder, William O. Lee, and other original members.
Getting the day-to-day operations of the heritage center will be part of that, she added. But it’s also important that AARCH and the community “carry on with that torch” and continue the organization’s mission.
“That’s our goal: It’s that place you can have the race talk, it’s a place where we can just have total engagement from the entire community,” Gibril said. “That’s the long-term goal, is to have a pretty open dialogue, that would be a great tribute to the founding members.”