Things weren’t so quiet at the Central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library when the Brooklyn Vanguard had its last event. A phalanx of young Brooklynites, clad in their nightclub best, streamed into the library’s Dweck Center on Grand Army Plaza, but this was no study group.
“Library After Dark,” as the night was billed, was the first event from the Brooklyn Vanguard, a new group of library boosters in their 20s and 30s whose goals include fundraising for the BPL and making it a destination for the borough’s cultural elite.
“One of the reasons I got involved [with the BPL] was because I’ve been to events at cultural institutions outside of the borough, but with other institutions, I wouldn’t be able to toss a stone in the pond and create a ripple effect,” said Kevin Pemberton, 37, who founded the Brooklyn Vanguard. “The library does not have to be a place where one falls asleep. The BPL is a state of the art facility — we have materials, services and resources. We are the genesis for thinking; it all starts at the library.”
If you missed the inaugural event, on Saturday, May 10, the group will host a cabaret-style performance featuring Mo Beasley and The Love Storm. Following the show — which will consist of poetry, spoken word and live music — the artists will mingle with guests at a wine and cheese reception.
Pemberton’s love for the library took root when he was growing up in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. He and his brothers spent time at the local branch, where his father worked after emigrating from the Caribbean.
“I like to be involved with the library,” he said, “because it’s a place where my journey began with books. It allowed me to go out as a professional and make my mark in the world.”
After making the move to Manhattan and working his way up the Wall Street ladder — he’s a vice president at Neuberger Berman, an investment advisory firm — Pemberton returned to the borough 18 months ago and settled into his Fort Greene home. It wasn’t long before he found himself at the library’s Central branch.
“We were approached by Kevin [Pemberton], who had an idea of starting a young donors group in Brooklyn,” said BPL Executive Director Dionne Mack-Harvin. “At that time, we were planning the Dweck Center, and knew we would have a venue that could contribute to the success of the group. The two things together were perfect timing.”
In October 2007, the library opened the Dr. S. Stevan Dweck Center for Contemporary Culture, a 189-seat space with two conference rooms, two lobbies and a stage for presentations. (The center was made possible by a $1.5-million donation from Dweck, a psychologist and Bensonhurst native, who gave the money in honor of his late brother, Harry Dweck.)
“The Dweck allows us to expand our programs and gives us an opportunity to bring people in and to see the Central library as a borough-wide resource,” said Mack Harvin.
In 2007, the BPL offered 37,000 classes, which were attended by 800,000 people. What was missing, according to Mack-Harvin, was exactly the group of people that Pemberton proposed to bring in.
“This demographic is a very important population for us to keep engaged. When people are students, the library is a natural place to go. But once they’re out of school, what role does the library play for that population?” asked Mack-Harvin. “[Brooklyn Vanguard] will bring people to the library and help them understand that we’re not what we used to be.”
And while a good time was had by all — especially once the evening’s proceeds were tallied at $16,000, which will benefit the African American Heritage Center at the library’s Macon branch in Bedford-Stuyvesant — thanks to an open bar and music from DJ Rich Medina, it was only the beginning for the Vanguard.
“I’m excited about the possibilities here,” said Pemberton, who plans events along with a 20-member “Founders Committee.” “It couldn’t have happened at a greater time.”
Membership to the Brooklyn Vanguard is $150–$275. Mo Beasley and The Love Storm will perform at 7 pm on May 10 at the Dweck Center in the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central branch on Grand Army Plaza. Tickets are $10, free for Vanguard members. For information, visit www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/support/vanguard or call (718) 230-2465.