While the community-forum series that she’s moderated at Red Bank Public Library just observed its one-year anniversary, Gilda Rogers is scarcely the first Red Banker to issue the invitation “Let’s Talk About Race.” That distinction may go to T. Thomas Fortune (1856-1928), the onetime slave turned pioneer black editor-publisher and crusading journalist — and this Wednesday evening, September 28, Fortune’s former home (on what’s now Drs. James Parker Boulevard) is the focus of a special discussion on the man named Fortune, and the ongoing efforts to recognize and represent his life’s work to the community.
Regular readers of redbankgreen‘s paperless pages have no doubt followed the story of the T. Thomas Fortune House, the National Historic Site that has fallen into a serious state of disrepair in recent years — along with a newly floated proposal to rehabilitate the deteriorating structure as a public-welcome community center, and centerpiece of a residential apartment development. During Wednesday’s 7 p.m. presentation in the library’s downstairs meeting room, attendees will be brought up to speed on the details of the plan, and how such a resource can best honor the legacy of the activist who was credited as “being the bridge to the modern day Civil Rights Movement.”
It’s a milestone edition of the monthly series that “explores race and culture in the context of literary works and the social mores of cultural identity and class” — a series that kicked off in the late summer of 2015 with an introduction to Citizens for a Free, Open and Diverse Society, the grass-roots organization co-founded by Rogers and Lincroft resident Sidney W. Bernstein. The “Let’s Talk About Race” events have since gone on to encompass film screenings, lectures by guest speakers, and dialogues on topics that range from the slave trade that underpins our nation’s foundation, to the hot-button headlines of the here and now.
Serving as series moderator, curator and public face is Rogers — author, activist, playwright, educator (Brookdale Community College, Red Bank Regional), local talk show host and former proprietor of Frank Talk Art Bistro, the Shrewsbury Avenue storefront cultural spot that, we don’t mind repeating, “was as delightfully difficult to summarize as the woman who put her stamp on it.”
While “Let’s Talk About Race” is the sort of call to action that often causes many otherwise well-intentioned souls to want to chat about pretty much anything else, the series’ flair for frank talk, community engagement and open dialogue has made it a welcome addition to the slate of programs at RBPL — and the kind of forum that Mr. Fortune himself might very well have smiled upon. All monthly events in the series are offered free of charge, with recommended registration available by visiting the library’s Reference Desk or calling (732)842-0690 ext. 111.