Amherst Media to name new headquarters after Demetria Rougeaux Shabazz

Amherst educator Mary Custard, left, and Victoria Silva, winner of the Jean Haggerty Award for Community Engagement and Social Change, at Amherst Media’s 48th annual gala Saturday.

Amherst educator Mary Custard, left, and Victoria Silva, winner of the Jean Haggerty Award for Community Engagement and Social Change, at Amherst Media’s 48th annual gala Saturday. CONTRIBUTED

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 11-22-2023 10:00 AM

AMHERST — A new building to serve as Amherst Media’s headquarters will be named in honor of Demetria Rougeaux Shabazz, a former board president for the nonprofit organization and social justice activist who died in September.

At Amherst Media’s 48th annual meeting, and inaugural gala, held at the Marriott Center at the University of Massachusetts Saturday evening, Amherst Media Executive Director Jim Lescault and Board President Vira Douangmany Cage announced the Dr. Demetria Rougeaux Shabazz Center for Media Arts. 

To be constructed at the corner of Main and Gray streets, the 1 ½-story Greek Revival building has received approvals from various town boards, with fundraising for what had been projected to be a $1.3 million building.

“Brick by brick, dollar by dollar, we will accomplish it together and we will make history together to make real that Amherst will now have its first building to be named after a Black woman,” Douangmany Cage said.

The announcement came as more than 180 community members feted Victoria Silva and her late spouse Vladimir Morales with the Jean Haggerty Award for Community Engagement and Social Justice.  The couple was recognized for being committed to supporting young people in Amherst, instilling Puerto Rican pride and identity, having a passion to uplift marginalized communities. Amherst’s first Puerto Rican Day celebrations were organized by Morales. In addition, Morales, who served on the Amherst School Committee, also regularly advocated for special legislation that would allow non-citizens the right to vote in local elections.

Meanwhile, Shabazz was considered a visionary leader at Amherst Media and for the town of Amherst.  

“Dr. Shabazz was steadfast in her support for free speech and providing the venue for diverse community voices, dedicating herself to promoting and enhancing Amherst Media's presence in the Amherst area,” Lescault said. “She saw the need to own our facility for sustainability. It is now up to us to pull through the last hurdle of building the new facility.”

Shabazz also ran her own community television show, Difficult Dialogues, alongside her husband Amilcar Shabazz, a professor at the University of Massachusetts.

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The new building, within walking distance of the middle and high schools, will have a television studio and podcasting studio and will serve as a media training site for youth and community members. Government transparency will continue and be enhanced by broadcasting and archiving all Amherst School Committee and Town Council meetings, and recording important town events. 

The capital campaign for the project has been ongoing since the organization purchased the land several years ago. Amherst Media currently operates from a University Drive building, moving there after being forced out from its Eversource-owned building on College Street.

The gala featured speaker Martin Espada, who gave the benediction and shared an original and recently published poem titled “The Puerto Rican with a Bolshevik Name.” Espada was followed by speakers Alicia Lopez, Gilberto Amador and Nelson Acosta who shared additional tributes to Silva and Morales.

Singer and songwriter Kalyani Rayne, Silva and Morales’ granddaughter, performed two songs she wrote for them.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.