September 14, 2016 is a day I will never forget. It was magical. It was black magic. I had the privilege of joining influencers in media, blogging, social media, museum education, and in other fields for a preview or media day at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American Heritage and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, DC. It was a privilege to be in the company of people I admire as well as meet peers in museum education, and a bevy of curators and administrators for the new museum.
Instead of a play-by-play of the day, I will try to summarize some of the highlights of the experience beginning with our pre-preview exchange with Lanae Spruce, community manager for NMAAHC’s social media outreach. Lanae provided an amazing toolkit to guide each of us along with some requests regarding our use of our social media to promote the day. It is without question that the experience really was about “a people’s journey,” because from the first look at the building and its architecture to our first steps inside, it was indeed a journey. It was not unusual to watch media interviewing curators and other staff, but we were also encouraged to do the very same.
One of my favorite exhibits was the Black Power exhibit, and I had the opportunity to interview Michelle Wilkinson, PhD, a co-curator of the exhibit. I noted the parallels between that movement and Black Lives Matter. But the details of the exhibit illuminated more than protests and humanized the efforts to feed, educate and protect citizens in urban communities nationwide.
Though I’m still processing what I saw, I am certain that the museum succeeds in linking together a Diaspora history that makes African American history global and a history for all people on the earth. That’s an astounding task.
The integrity of each exhibit and even the interactive way the museum is designed is impeccable. There is even a reflection area so that patrons can take deep breaths after viewing some of the most poignant collections and exhibits.
The world will be able to see the beauty of my people in ways unimaginable. There were the freedom papers of a man who created a weatherproof tin box to carry them in. There are other vestiges of slavery like the slave ship shackles. But most important there are the empowering vestiges of freedom, a progressive freedom that is well-articulated and documented from the ancestors in Africa to the slave trade to emancipation to voting and civil rights to civil unrest to Barack Obama becoming president to Black Lives Matter.
You will take what you see into your spirit, so take plenty of tissue and some good walking shoes, and expect to spend more than one day there. It is that vast and exhaustive, but it is also that important and worthy of celebration. The black magic is the black power of NMAAHC.