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The Smithsonian’s African American Museum is a “Living” Testament

By Eric Easter, Urban News Service

The just-opened National Museum of African American History and Culture is a work-in-progress — in every way. Surprisingly, this is its best asset.

In one way, that description is literal. On Media Day, less than 10 days before its grand opening, the museum’s grounds still were littered with the cigarette butts, snack bags and other leftovers from the hundreds of construction workers who put the final touches on the building.

museumInside, journalists scoured the space for stories to tell. They navigated around carts that carried pieces of exhibits yet to be nailed in and observed priceless objects amid handwritten signs whose installation instructions read “too tall” and “put nothing on top.”

Yet even with the museum finally open for business, it remains incomplete — by design. Six hundred years of African American history — and the culture that grew from centuries of struggle, pain and triumph — is too sweeping an epic to contain on a few floors. The only way to do so is to consider the museum not a permanent collection of  artifacts, but a living space that will evolve, shift, re-focus and re-invent itself — just  like the community it seeks to reflect.

The extraordinary effort to fund and build the new museum has overshadowed the even harder work performed by the museum’s curators. They gathered and edited the more-than-37,000-item collection into a coherent narrative.

The decision to start the museum’s story in pre-colonial, 15th-Century Africa involved an “intense” process, said Mary Elliott, curator of the museum’s history section. She consulted noted scholars including Ira Berlin, Eric Foner and Annette Gordon Reed to help set the necessary context for the full museum. But Elliott soon realized that a full reading of that time would be “too dense” for the average museum-goer.

“We needed to start with the reality of a free Africa and its position as a center of trade,” said Elliott. “But we wanted to go much deeper into the stories of the Italian role in financing the slave trade, as well as a more in-depth look at conditions in Europe that set the stage. But that’s a lot to ingest for the average museum-goer.”

The need to add some things and delete others at times was “heartbreaking.”

Those decisions, no doubt, will cause some to quibble about the tone, length or depth of some exhibits. And some criticisms will be fair. The displays on Reconstruction and the role of blacks in the military seem especially short given the importance of those themes.

But those arguments don’t account for the realities of a museum audience raised on Twitter, Wikipedia and TV on-demand. The tourist who tries to squeeze in all of Washington’s 17 Smithsonian museums in a few days will lack the capacity to absorb generations of pain and progress in one fell swoop. Return visits will be a must.

Still, those who want to go deeper will get that opportunity. The museum offers a full-time staff genealogist to help families discover their roots. Scholars can enjoy the museum’s research rooms. Public programming and temporary exhibits will let curators breathe more life into subject matter and explore contemporary themes and issues via multimedia and assorted technologies.

As a full body of work, the museum is a treasure. Its existence tells a story and stands as a tribute to a culture that has triumphed amid adversity. The displays simply accentuate that idea through stories that are tragic, critical, objective and, ultimately, celebratory. It is a museum about American possibility, as told through the story of a people whose American-ness too often has been denied and questioned. This museum should end such doubts.

What visitors will experience is best exemplified in a moment that occurred during one of many pre-opening receptions.

Speaking at an event hosted by Google, former Rep. Susan Molinari (R – New York), who is white, shared her experience at the museum. She fought through tears as she recalled one section that particularly resonated with her. The mostly black audience reacted politely. Many of them later said that, because of their own families’ legacies, they might have reacted differently to the same moment.

That may be what happens to everyone who passes through the museum’s doors. What one sees and experiences will be very different — depending on the history, knowledge and perspective that one carries through the entrance. That, in the end, is the true power of the place.

Open Letter to Presidential Candidates Hillary Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R) Jill Stein (G) and Gary Johnson (L)

By Higher Heights

Dear 2016 Presidential Candidates:

In an effort to hear what issues Black women are most concerned with this election cycle, Higher Heights asked Black women across the country (at events and online), what is the most important issue facing Black women and their families. 49 percent stated that economic security was the most pressing issue.  

No wonder this was the top response, considering Black women are paid just 60 cents to every dollar paid to a White man.  In addition to economic security, the other top issues included Education Equity (19%), Police Violence (16%) and High Quality Affordable Housing (14%).

According to 2013 U.S. Census data, 71 percent of Black women are in the labor force (69 percent for women overall).  Black women are more likely than women nationally to work in the lowest-paying occupations (like service, health care support, and education) and less likely to work in the higher-paying engineering and tech fields or managerial positions.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the percentage of Black women who are full-time minimum-wage workers is higher than that of any other racial group.  

The late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan once said, “What the people want is very simple – they want an America as good as its promise.”  Higher Heights is asking you, as a candidate for the highest executive job in the country, to pledge to make good on this promise by putting forward a comprehensive economic security strategy and plan at the top of your list of priority issues on which you will focus in the first 100 days of your administration, should you be elected.

Higher Heights is also asking Black women across the country to raise their voices on this issue at the ballot box this November.  We know that when you fire up a Black woman she does not go to the polls alone, she brings her house, her block, her church, her sorority, and her water cooler. For us, this election is about harnessing the power of Black women’s votes to ensure that you, as candidates feel compelled to address and support building economically stable communities and the other issues of the greatest importance to Black women.

It really isn’t that complicated.  Black women are voting this November and economic security is the No. 1 issue they care about. The next President of the United States will take office at a time of great opportunity for our nation. In the final weeks of the election, we encourage you to listen and devise a course of action to address the concerns of this very important constituency.  

What It Do With The LUE: Feeding the Homeless

homelessBy Lue Dowdy

Feeding the homeless on Tuesday, October 22 is WHAT IT DO! I’m calling out all Indie Artists and anyone affiliated with the entertainment game in the I.E. Mobilize with us to feed over a 1,000 homeless individuals in the Inland Empire. It’s better to GIVE. BE A BLESSING TO OTHERS THIS YEAR!

Last year we made 477 hot meals and passed out socks, sleeping bags and more. This year we’re doing it bigger and better. Please join in! To donate please contact us on Facebook under LUE Productions or call (909) 567-1000, or email Lue.info@yahoo.com. Until next week, much LOVE and L’zzz!

Items still needed include: Rolls, Cranberry sauce, Corn, Dressing Mix, Gravy packages, Napkins, Forks, Cakes and Pies, Socks, Scarves, Gloves, Blankets, and Hygiene kits. Shout to the following: Black Collar Entertainment for donating all the mash potatoes and water; 4ETE for donating all the green beans; Mama Loretta Smith for volunteering to cook turkeys and dressing; OWFO for volunteering to donate all the food containers; Sirr Jones for volunteering to donate Turkeys; Yawnie for volunteering to donate Turkeys; Moon Bush for donating hygiene kits; and Amanda Tatum for donating dressing mix.