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African American Cultural Resource Center


Mrs. Lovette W. Harper

Founder of AACRC

July 18, 1924 - December 8, 2023

Vision: The vision is for The African American Cultural Resource Center to be the premier venue for the study of African and African American Life, history and culture in the Sarasota/Manatee communities and beyond.

Mission: The African American Cultural Resource Center at Betty J. Johnson North Sarasota Public Library, Inc. (BJJNSPL) houses a special collection of books, periodicals, media, art, and artifacts pertinent to the Global Black Experience. Created by the Friends of BJJNSPL, Inc, it is a reading room and research facility with materials not only about African Americans but also about African people living in Africa and in many other parts of the world. There is a special section with information about the history of Newtown and African Americans in Florida. The African American Cultural Resource Center is available for use by students, scholars, historians, researchers, and other interested individuals in the larger community.

Lovette W. Harper: A Kwanzaa Legend

Written by Lois B Wilkins

Why I love Kwanzaa…


Preparing for the season where we celebrate the African American tradition of Kwanzaa has become one of the best moments of my life. This legacy was introduced to me in Sarasota by Ms. Lovette W. Harper, and it’s been my honor to continue her work of gathering community and sharing knowledge.


A true expert in African American heritage, Lovette W. Harper spent years cultivating a collection of Black memorabilia from around the world.  To ensure this information was available to all, she negotiated a space in the Betty J. Johnson North Sarasota Public Library so people in the community could interact daily with this wealth of knowledge.


A master curator, Ms. Harper delivered pieces of her massive collection to The Family Heritage House Museum at State College of Florida in Bradenton. It is one of few displays of its kind on a college campus in the state.


Greater among other inhabited locations is Lovette W. Harper’s deposited diasporic collection to her alma mater, the former Tuskegee Institute.  Now known as Tuskegee University, there two legends of African American history are laid to rest: Booker T. Washington and Dr. George Washington Carver.  Tuskegee was built in 1881 under a charter from the Alabama legislature for the purpose of training teachers in Alabama. Its programs provided students with both academic and vocational training.


When Lovette W. Harper moved from New York City and settled here in Florida, she had an educational plan in mind.  Ms. Harper felt the only real tools to combat racism were hidden in the books and special collections she had made available to everyone, adults, and children.  She knew many of us had hidden treasures of history,  often tucked away in taped boxes that we pass by every day.


Ms. Harper would have been pleased to see people at the North County Library celebrating Kwanzaa together on Thursday, December 7, 2023, at 5:00pm. For the first time in many years, her health prevented her from attending this wonderful celebration. She would have said, “Lois there were 102  people at Kwanzaa last night!” Lovette would have continued, “Your church members showed up!!”


And Lovette would have loved this moment:  A little boy came up to Dr. Lonetta Gaines and said, “I remember you from last year!” His eyes spoke to Lonetta with pride. He reached for Lonetta’s hand, and he smiled a smile of pride!  I was so moved by that moment that tears filled my eyes. It was one of many moving moments…spoken word artist Melanie Lavender, the Billionaire Babies and on and on.


Ms. Lovette W. Harper, at the age of 99-1/2 years…listened to the Kwanzaa Celebration in the quiet of her spirit- filled home for what would be the last time in this world…


 I can imagine our Lord, Jesus Christ, whispering to her, “job well done, Lovette W. Harper, my good and faithful servant…My people are beginning to wake up.”  And I believe she knew her mission had been accomplished.  Lovette left us with the gifts of knowledge, with all the gifts of Kwanzaa and the responsibility to carry the torch she lit for the generations.



Lois B. Wilkins, President of Friends of Betty J Johnson North Sarasota Public Library and Chair of the African American Cultural Resource Center acknowledges all who attended the Community Kwanzaa celebration 2023 and appreciates the donations received as a result.


Dr. Cheryl A. Smith

DR. CHERYL A. SMITH is an author and researcher. She is a retired     Associate Professor from the School of Integrative and Experiential Studies and in the Graduate Schools of Arts and Social Sciences and of Education at Lesley University, located in Cambridge, MA. She earned her doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University. 


While at Lesley University, in addition to teaching at the Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral level, she was a member of the university’s Center for Academic Technology Advisory Committee,University wide and Departmental Curriculum committees and the Advanced Graduate Council which oversaw the doctoral program in Educational Studies. She was also a member of the Women’s Resource Group. 


She has served on boards in Sarasota, FL. including the Art Center Sarasota for 5 years and the Friends of the North Sarasota Public Library (NSPL) for 6. Three of those years were as board president. She was the co-chair of the African American Cultural Resource Center (AACRC) located in the Betty J. Johnson North Sarasota Public Library since it’s inception in 2008. She most recently served as the Collections Manager of the reference and resource materials pertaining to the Global Black experience. 


After retirement, Dr. Smith taught classes she created at Pierian Spring Academy, a life longlearning center in Sarasota, FL. They included a short history of women entrepreneurs in the US entitled “If You Only Knew” and a memoir writing series “Got Stories?.” She is the editor of a book, A Tapestry Woven From Threads of Our Lives written by Advanced students in the memoir series and of a memoir by an African American artist Jacqueline Cully, An Artist’s Journey from Key West to Paris. She has also edited     several books from the advanced students in her class including “The Village As I Knew It Is no More” by Betty J. Johnson.


Her first book is Market Women: Black Woman Entrepreneurs Past Present and Future(2005). She has completed a second book titled “On Hallowed Ground: The Dunbar Complex in Harlem” about the National Landmark housing complex where she grew up. She continues to work with former students in their writing support group called “The Seat to Chair Club.”

The History of AACRC

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