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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.

Community Mourns the Loss of Evan T. Carthen

Evan T. Carthen

Evan T. Carthen

Mr. Evan Tyler Carthen, 22, Pepperdine University Law Student, former California Lutheran University Student Body President, former Arrowhead Christian Academy High School Graduate (2012) and former Social Lites, Inc. Beautillion Sir Knight 2012, passed away on September 5, 2016. He was the son of Tracy Carthen and Twillea Evans-Carthen, twin brother to Eric Carthen and brother to Megan Carthen Jackson (Marcus).

Carthen, 2016 graduate from California Lutheran University with a dual major, BA in English and BS in political science.  Carthen was known for his compassionate heart and deep desire to make the world a better place. As an undergraduate, he served as president of the Associated Students of California Lutheran University Government executive cabinet and was secretary of the Black Student Union of California Lutheran University. Carthen was inducted into the California Lutheran University Scholar-Athlete Society in 2013 and 2014 in recognition of his performance on the men’s basketball team as well as in the classroom. He chose Pepperdine School of Law for its Christian mission and to fulfill his dream of becoming a district attorney.

Evan’s life was celebrated on Tuesday, September 13, 2016 at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in addition to a celebration of life service honoring Evan Carthen on Friday, September 9, at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA and a candlelight vigil on Tuesday, September 6, at California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, CA.

Tributes in memory of a life well lived are welcome by going to www.dignitymemorial.com.

Artivism: Activism through the Arts for Safer Communities

SAN BERNARDINO, CA – On Friday, August 26th, 2016, United Nations of Consciousness hosted Artivism: Activism Through the Arts for Safer Communities at their new facility, Anne Shirrells Park Community Center. This event was part of the #SchoolsNotPrisons campaign to bring awareness to school discipline policies and to advocate for prioritizing prevention over punishment for safe and healthy communities for our youth. 

They were honored to have shared the night with over 250 guests including community members, families, youth, community leaders and partnering organizations such as COPE, BLU Education Foundation, Time for Change Foundation and YAP. The night began with a gallery viewing, followed by powerful performances from local youth artists of the Inland Empire, who set the stage ablaze with poetry, music and dance. The room was filled with much diversity, and various forms of artistic expressions.

UNC would like to thank each and every person for coming out to support their event and contributing to make it a success.

“You all left a positive impact on our community through your contributions of partnership, performance, art and/or volunteering,” LaNae Norwood, President and Founder of UNC, said. “Together, we have spread the message of the importance of funding education, youth, intervention and prevention programs to help create safe and healthy communities for all.”

The work does not stop here! Please join them by continuing to support #SchoolsNotPrisons ensuring that we end the “School to Prison Pipeline” and to give our youth opportunities for a brighter future. For more information, please visit www.unitednationsofconsciousness.com.