BPL's Black American Library Card honors the history, contributions and culture of Black Americans.
The Library's limited-edition card was designed by Jnéydé Williams and unveiled at Macon Library's African American Heritage Center:
BPL's Black American Library Card was released in 2021, the first year that Juneteenth was recognized as a City, State and public school holiday. Watch the livestream of the unveiling here. The card was created in partnership with then-Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Brooklyn’s Community Boards. Learn more about the development of the Black American Library Card here.
Meet the Artist: Jnéydé Williams / Nehemiah
Artist's Statement: I am proud that long ago, my great-grandparents decided to leave the tobacco fields of North Carolina to pursue better opportunities for their children in Brooklyn, New York. They landed on Rochester Avenue and established four businesses that included a convenience store, fish market, rooming house and a used furniture store. I am sure they never dreamed that this one decision to relocate would alter generations to come. As my mother’s only child, I remember my many adventures to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Prospect Park, Prospect Park Zoo and the Brooklyn Academy of Music Festival. Each place was filled with lots of people, colors, and excitement. Returning home, I would welcome the moment to capture all that I saw in my sketchbook.
It was with great surprise that by the time I was a tween, my adventures turned into opportunity. I was presented with the chance to display my art at the Brooklyn Fulton Art Fair, Art on the Fence. Standing side by side with established artists, asking and answering questions as people came by, I must admit I didn’t want it to end. Little did I know this would set the stage for my next opportunity as a high school student to intern at the legendary Brooklyn Music School’s after-school program. The next four weeks were filled with assisting talented young children with homework, dispersing snacks, and drawing children’s portraits in exchange for them completing their assignments. Each day it was a joy to help them learn and navigate their studies. They all kept me inspired as I saw myself reflected in their interest in the arts. As high school came to an end, my mother announced that our extended family member opened his art gallery on Myrtle Ave, The Spot. Visiting his new business, I gazed at all his paintings that stretched from the ceiling to the floor. When he asked if I would work at his gallery for the summer, I quickly accepted.
Today, as I continue my college studies, working part-time at The Spot keeps me humble and creative, connected to art, people and my community. The inspiration behind my design is to show that the key to success is through education and to encourage access to literature for those of impoverished Black communities. The young brown girl is me; since elementary school, I could never keep my head out of a book. As an animation major, I desire to show the importance of the Black experience on screen and I plan to create a not-for-profit program that will train young people in the areas of creative writing and animation. I believe in the words of my mother: it takes a village.
Black American Library Card Design Finalists
The Library is also pleased to share the finalists’ library card designs and artist statements.
As a girl growing up in Brooklyn, I was always aware of the individuality Black Americans had and how it was often underrepresented in the media. From the various fashion senses to cultural festivals, I always wished that the culture I saw everyday was shown around the world. Even going to the library as a child, I found myself wanting to be represented in the books I read to feel connected to the story. I was always searching for myself in the media until I realized I could create exactly what I was looking for. Being able to use my art to create the representation that I wish I saw when I was younger is an empowering feeling. Celebrating Black Americans’ freedom on Juneteenth has always helped me to appreciate how far we have come to create our own representation in a world that tries to keep us hidden.
With this art, I wanted to recreate familiar features of people that may remind Black and non-Black people alike of our family members, friends or fellow Brooklynites. This way, not only would Black Americans feel represented, but it would also display characters that everyone could feel connected to. By using this opportunity to represent the modern Black community with various complexions, natural hairstyles and genders, I am creating something that I would have loved to have seen growing up. Feeling seen and represented is an experience I’d like everyone to have at the library, and I hope this opportunity to celebrate Blackness leaves a lasting impact on the next generation.
Audriana Marie Gibson
Stepping off the plane, greeted by a big whiff of LaGuardia Airport’s aroma, I was standing on shaky ground. Though I could mean that in a literal sense, my lack of foundation was wrapped up in my head. To be honest, my hair wasn’t the only thing sitting in twists. After all, I was looking to find myself again: I’d been swept up by a whirlwind college graduation, my first heartbreak, and general confusion as to which way my life would be headed. The next week I spent in New York City is the ultimate source for my inspiration behind my submission.
Seven days felt like two seconds as my friends whisked me, my Crocs, and my midwestern charm around the city. Surrounded by the love of four beautifully indescribable Black women, and the undeniable blackness of the city, they reminded me of who I was and nurtured me back to health. Most importantly, they saved me from forgetting that the world still has bits of joy peeking out of the concrete. With all the hoopla I felt a familiar feeling of happiness beginning to creep back into my tired spirit. In Brooklyn, for the last days of my trip, I held the hand of someone who showed me that love was a possibility again. The trees of Prospect Park whispered sweet songs that only I could hear and the swipe of my MetroCard sounded like something I could move along to. I owe it to this otherworldly “city within a city” for letting me see that smilin’ wasn’t half bad. My experience aided me in the realization of what, in my opinion, is to blame for the undeniable strength of the spine of the Black American experience. Rain or shine, both in the past and undoubtedly to continue in the future, Black people have always found a reason to laugh, smile, and excavate joy even when you have convinced yourself that your world is caving in. When one of us is down, the power and tenacity of the Black community can and will rally. Again and again, as the walls have fallen around Black folks, someone can and will find the light and spread it to the people.
I make art any way I can. Trained as a performer and seasoned as a singer, in convalescence I explore visual art, fabric arts and elements of Black culture in everyday objects. This multimedia work has small pieces of fabric I used in making about 600 masks for the pandemic. It shows the four stages of human life. The foundation of knowledge is in the library. As we well know, books and words are transformative liberation. A well-loved book is a journey and authors are friends we can keep our whole lives. When the two combine, it can change us forever and direct our own life’s story.
When I was little, my stack of books to check out was always a bit more than I could carry. Deciding which ones to leave was dreadful! My most wonderful Aunt Inee was a librarian, as is my best friend. They are a very special kind of Kindness. I'm not sure most people are aware there are angels in the stacks, but look for a book and find such a person. When I nannied, my babies went to the library as soon as we could leave the house. It's a beautiful place to teach courtesy, respect for diverse peoples, and to just wonder, wander. I've lived in Brooklyn for 24 years, having grown up in New Orleans and been all over the world. There's no place like Brooklyn. Each block feels like a kind of United Nations. My neighborhood is Crown Heights—a lotta Haitian, Trinidadian, Barbadian, Guyanese and mixed families of all sorts. It feels a bit like my hometown and most like Home.
Can anything be sweeter than a lil kid with a stack of books and the whole world in their hands? Can any place be more essential than where the elders can rest and read? Can any building be warmer than where the babies sing along and clap their wee hands? Where might one study for citizenship and to register to vote? Where do us lonely folk go to have a body say Hi, when there just ain't no one else that will?
Ah libraries! that temple of civilization—that's where the magic starts. I had a wonderful time creating this little girl’s world. I hope it brings you joy and stokes the excitement of checking out a stack of tomes to soothe the soul and make it home.
My name is Cavani Diggs. I’m a 21-year-old graduating senior at Howard University majoring in Political Science and minoring in Secondary Education from Queens, NY. While I am a Queens resident, my roots stem from 2721 Synder Ave in Flatbush. When my great-grandmother first moved her family here from Trinidad and Tobago, this is where she rooted herself to begin growing a sound place for our family’s future to thrive. With time they moved around to an apartment building not too far away and finally she bought a family home in Queens that most of us still call home to this day. My entire childhood is full of memories driving from Queens to Brooklyn via the Belt Parkway or Linden Boulevard because we did everything there. We went to church, Holy Apostles and St. Gabriels, we ate at Gloria’s and the Chinese spot on Utica Ave, we congregated for Team Carib events and boat rides. I lived in Brooklyn and you couldn’t tell me otherwise.
My individual experience in Brooklyn started in high school. I was accepted into John Jay School for Law in Park Slope and I woke up. Traveling from Queens to Brooklyn at 6 in the morning wasn’t ideal but to me, those trips were eye-opening. I went from living 10 blocks from my school to traveling across so many neighborhoods that felt like different worlds. I literally experienced the melting pot that we call New York because I finally had freedom to experience all these new places I’d driven past but never stopped in. The thing about Brooklyn is there is always a gem to be found. Not just diamonds in the rough, but these rubies and sapphires that if you stop to focus the community sings to you, or maybe it was the musician in the subway. It’s full of icons, cultural landmarks and most importantly the history of African American culture, not just here in America but across the African Diaspora.
This piece is a reflection of the many beautiful things that I think of when I think of home while studying in Washington DC and Maryland. The building, people, community and just sense of fully belonging in a community that embraces all that you are while testing you to push further on your journey. It isn’t some replica, it’s the original with no filter that makes most of the most fascinating people I’ve been fortunate to know and love, including myself.
While I took art classes around elementary school, everything I’m creating now is self taught, tried and tested as Caviiart. It’s an honor to even submit and am excited for ALL of the artwork that will be created for this momentous occasion!
I remembered the brownstones and solace I experienced coming home from my commute from the bustle of Manhattan from my advertising job. It was a heightened experience of inspiration. I would draw on my commutes on the A train as soon as I could afford an iPad. I’m from the Caribbean, so I immediately gained access to the culture, people, and foods that I had craved living temporarily for a year in another borough after college. When I settled in Bed-Stuy, greeting my neighbors and waving to them gave me the comfort that I needed while I was hundreds of thousands of miles away from my family. Since this was my early 20s, with each experience I grew. Whether it was from heartbreaks, promotions, new hobbies—Brooklyn was all part of it.
With this piece, I wanted to depict the solace I had in the brownstones that I rented on my own. I also wanted to show my love of reading that started when I was very young. It took me into different worlds with each page. It made me realize how important it was to tell stories, to the point where it ignited me to publish my own books. I also included the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch at Prospect Park, a familiar landmark when I became an ultramarathon runner. I would pass it by whenever I logged the miles that would help me train for my first marathon and then my first 50-miler. The décor of this piece is bright but uses warm colors to represent my Caribbean influence—something I did to help prevent seasonal affective disorder when it was much too cold to go outside in the winters. I also added plants. I wish I had planted more of them since Brooklyn helped me grow. After almost 10 years of living there, I have multiple chapters to share with my own daughter as she grows. I hope to inspire her to read as my mother had. I hope to tell her stories of meeting her dad on a dating app and introducing him to my Brooklyn world. I also hope to explain to her how difficult it was to leave and it took immense convincing to pack a U-Haul and drive it away after packing all those memories. Finally, I hope to tell her how lucky she is to have parents who dreamt dreams because they escaped into worlds of literature to learn as much as they could with the finite time they have on Earth to find each other.
I am a Philadelphia-based illustrator, a professional industrial designer and recently a student of Arts & Design in Philadelphia. I am also part of the BIPOC community, and my artwork is based on representations of heritage, culture, biodiversity, natural roots and recognition of territory.
I found my passion for visual arts when I discovered how one image can represent, empower or move communities for common causes. I believe it is important to recognize the impact that optical messages play in modern culture and how we can capture and share our ideas, beliefs and stories with others through visual language.
For some time I have been working in the graphic representation of the power of the African American, Latin and Indigenous culture through workshops at Philadelphia’s African American Museum. I also designed the cover of the last winter edition of the thematic BLACK LIVES MATTERS, and I am currently developing community mural workshops with a group of teenagers of color in South Philadelphia, where we want to develop semi-annual exhibitions at community centers across the city.
Every day I am looking for a way to show the importance of the empowerment of our Black culture through the visual arts. I really enjoy working with children and adolescents because they are the ones who are not afraid to say or think of ideas of freedom outside the world's social barriers.
I have been in love with art and illustration since I was a young child. Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, I would watch my grandmother paint, and she is the one who instilled my love of art. As a child, I grew up in Houston, Texas, and in my twenties I moved to NYC. Having lived in several neighborhoods and in different boroughs, I currently live in Brooklyn and it is by far my favorite. Brooklyn is full of cultural history, beautiful architecture, wonderful food, and everything has purpose and value. When I heard about this contest, I felt excited because to me Brooklyn was this beautiful place unlike any other. Once I discovered the contest was designed to celebrate Black American culture, I knew I immediately needed to apply.
As an African American woman living in Brooklyn, this past year has been hard to sit through. From Covid, to hundreds of Black people being murdered by police officers every year, to the BLM movement, all while under the Trump presidency, this past year has been wretched. We watched as Black people marched in the streets to protest inhumanities and we watched as Trump's presidency came to an end. With new hope on the horizon, I hope 2021 will be a new dawn. I wanted to create a library card design that was hopeful, bright, and playful. I imagined the children of Brooklyn as the face of tomorrow. I thought of little Black boys as pure, not as the criminals they are painted to be. I wanted to show the beautiful brownstones of Brooklyn and that the best view of Manhattan is in Brooklyn. I thought of Bed-Stuy and Nostrand Ave, and "Black Lives Matter" painted on Fulton St. I wanted to try to show the magic of Brooklyn through a child's eyes.
My name is Marielle Lamothe. I'm a senior in college majoring in illustration. When I first thought of Brooklyn, family always connected me. There was also a continuous cycle of community. Any part of Brooklyn you go to, it's just a feeling that everyone has your back from young to old. I wanted to show a glimpse of that in this illustration. With all the intense issues that a Black person experiences, I wanted to create a piece that shows all of the great times.
The idea I had for this illustration was to create a snapshot of a little piece of Brooklyn by showing the sense of community and familiar nostalgia you get from being in a corner store. From the kids and customers having fun conversations to people simply enjoying their time in the store reading the paper, these corner stores and bodegas provide a sense of comfort that is always there.
Taquon Capri Middleton
Taquon Capri Middleton is a 28-year-old Architectural Illustrator from Brooklyn. Growing up as one of eight children in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn wasn't always easy. I had to share everything while protecting what was mine. I was one of the lucky ones who earned the opportunity to attend college. While studying at SUNY Alfred State, I earned a Bachelor's Degree in Architecture and studied abroad in Italy. I wanted to create an image that celebrated our African American heritage and encouraged readers all across our borough.
Zipporah Fraser is currently a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She is an Animation, Interactive Media and Game Design major.
This piece represents some aspects of Brooklyn that I saw while growing up. I wanted to showcase a child who, like me, was eager to learn from books as she traveled to the library in Crown Heights. Every day as a child, especially during the summer, I would go to Brower Park Library. Inside this library was another feeling of home. So many people with so many different talents would come there for a rest. Sometimes they would teach, have activities to engage others or basically just read. It was that sense of warmth that allowed people to feel welcome there. I also remember children coming back from playing sports and taking the time to read books. The librarians were never too stern and even helped us with our school assignments, and it always impressed me that they remembered our names. This location is a part of the community and it was difficult to show that, so I decided to draw a piece that I felt could showcase a snippet of what some youths may feel.
My parents, Pablo and Sylvia, met senior year at Art and Design High School. A few years later, I was born. They named me Danielle Vasquez. My parents told me they were at my dad's mom's apartment in Spanish Harlem when I started coming. There was not enough time to make it to the hospital, so my mom was brought to my abuela's bedroom, where two paramedics helped her give birth to me. Growing up in NYC, my adventures and experiences took me up and down the coast of Manhattan. I attended elementary school in El Barrio, I went to middle school on the Upper East Side, and later I attended high school with my fellow “Fame” classmates in the heart of Lincoln Center. I took my first trip on the L train to Brooklyn my senior year. My friends and I played pool, drank soda and listened to jazz. I knew someday I’d return to the borough.
Years later, fresh out of college and still excited to explore my thesis on identity expression through portraiture as a Black: African American and Puerto Rican woman in the arts, I moved to Brooklyn. My little walk-up apartment, right above a soul food restaurant and a laundromat, was my first step into adulthood. On that corner, I became friends with Sam, who was a chef that cooked the best baked chicken and cornbread, and the neighbor across the hall in his kitchen, who always waved when I looked through my kitchen window. My room, nestled between Crown Heights and Brownsville, allowed me to wake up every day in a neighborhood full of warm people and community. I found work in Bedford-Stuyvesant as a gallery assistant. The woman who owned the space turned the brownstone that had been in her family for generations into a private gallery. This led me to working with different Bedford-Stuyvesant community arts organizations. I began to be a part of Bed-Stuy in a way that felt meaningful and lasting. Walking through streets lined with brownstone after brownstone, with community gardens and long standing family businesses, the identity, the multigenerational culture of art and storytelling, of food and music, creativity and connectivity, of horticulture, of natural hair and natural swag, a regalness imbued with the stone and architecture of Brooklyn, all revealed itself to me. There were other times in Brooklyn that resonate with me: my time in Fort Greene learning West African dance, my time as an after-school teacher in Clinton Hill, a Zumba instructor in Maria Hernandez park and an intern at the aquarium in Coney Island. From house-sitting in Park Slope and going swimming every day one summer in McCarren Park, I learned that everywhere in Brooklyn it’s easy to be enamored by the culture and genuineness; a feeling brought forth by connecting with the people, and particularly with the Black folks who reside there, whose generosity and ability to spread love by always sharing what makes them special, is what makes Brooklyn magic.