Kelly Summerford, Pennsylvania Past Players
As one of six siblings, Kelly Summerford saw The Library as “one of the few places I could go and be by myself and study.”
“Getting to a Library was something that all of us, all of my family, had an opportunity to do,” says Summerford, who grew up in Harrisburg, where his ancestors arrived in 1898. “It also taught me how to be quiet.”
Now a historical actor and manager of the Pennsylvania Past Players, he is coming full circle. The renovated and reimagined McCormick Riverfront Library and Haldeman Haly House will include a home space for the Players, which brings to life the historical characters who contributed to the civil and women’s rights movements of the 19th and 20th centuries.
“I’m just so happy that we will have a home,” says Summerford, who is also manager of the William C. Goodridge Freedom Center & Underground Railroad Museum, York. “We will finally be housed somewhere where education is so important. People come because they want to learn.”
He once wondered why he didn’t see people of color represented in Library collections and often had to special order books relating to African American themes or history. Now, he is witnessing The Library’s commitment to diversity and cultural competence.
How have you seen The Library adapt? It’s so amazing to see actual growth in your lifetime. I thought we would always have to be different. We would always have to be “special,” and not special in the good kind of way. Although the Pennsylvania Past Players are not all Black, we do tell the Black experience and the Black stories. As a Past Player, having a place where I can put my top hat and having a space within an educational facility speaks volumes to how far we have come.
How does the project position The Library for the future? The new T. Morris Chester Welcome Center is going to be a hallmark. Dauphin County Library System has the opportunity to show the rest of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania what libraries should look like. We definitely should be the leaders, not just stopping at the T. Morris Chester Center, but keep thinking about the ideas, the kinds of things that are going to grow our community.
How do you see that growth happening? The Pennsylvania Past Players and the programming that will surround this move will help bring those kids who want to learn to The Library. In every area of Harrisburg, you find youth who really want to learn, but they’re stuck in their situation. Hopefully, we will be able to bring them to a Library. Let’s be the change agents. Let’s be the living documents of who and what libraries across the Commonwealth should be.