The 411|Dedication Day At Smithsonian’s African American History Museum

Your Black card was certified VIP status all weekend if you didn’t know! Once again my Blackness has me beaming with pride and regality. And by once again, I do mean for the second time in my adult life (first time was POTUS’ inauguration). Moments like these are so few and far between for us. Insert afro pat and two snaps because, honey, I was there. From the massive bronze crown of a building to the Middle Passage exhibit, nestled on the ground floor of the museum, our story is being told to all who are listening and even those who’d rather tune us out. I am Black, I am African American, my people were slaves and we are the blocks that built this nation. Our inclusion on the grand American stage, the national mall, is long overdue!

The day kicked off with an inspiring speech from the POTUS himself. If you’ve been living under a rock for the last 48 hours, I shared the video of his speech below. My POTUS spoke about patriotism and activism in our country, a conundrum for many African Americans whose history traces back to a time where our people were three fifths of a man only to assist the south’s political representation in the house. How are we to be patriots when our men, women and children are still shot down in the streets? I admire how eloquently POTUS delivers all of his speeches but this one in particular spoke to a feeling I’ve had for as long as I’ve known I was a great, great grandchild of a slave. See what I mean below.

The museum was designed in chronological order from the bottom up. Museum guides will urge you to explore in that order and I’d agree. 

It begins with an emotional journey through the middle passage on the bottom floor. I happen to be a history/slave narrative enthusiast. I’ve always had an unyielding thirst for knowledge of my people’s experiences. The slave narratives sufficed for a while but seeing items recovered from slave shipwrecks and seeing the detailed brutality and greed of the transatlantic slave trade will rock you. You’ll start your emotional journey there and each exhibit will move you further down the timeline of the African American experience. 

Bring kleenex.

We could never fully understand the horrors of their journey or the depth of their loss but the exhibit does a heck of a job at telling the story of how we came here. It was a brutal and heinous crime against humanity. That much is felt and asserted through this exhibit.

The reason you look like your Nigerian  and Ghanaian sista friends? It’s because your ancestors were more than likely from ancient Akan or Benin.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve asked yourself the daily question “Where EXACTLY in Africa are my roots?”  While we’ll never know the exact location, a general  answer would be western coastal African nations. A simple google search will supply you with this information but the museum shares certain customs that were carried across the ocean and continued in different slave states. For example, black folks from the Carolinas generally came from ancient Akan and Benin, modern day Nigeria and Ghana  and their traditions were continued in those regions of America. You’ll learn about the fusion of African customs into western societies in both North and South America. Sweet! 

Be prepared for your “gangsta” to be tested.

My absolute favorite part of my visit was exploring the civil rights exhibit which is modeled in the form of a “sit-in”. One the menu? Six forms of activism that were instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement. Take the Freedom Rides for example. Those brave young men and women who risked their lives to venture into dangerous territory to bring about equality. This exhibit walks you deeper and deeper into the cost of each movement. How much would you have wagered? To what extent were you willing to go? What was your freedom worth? What sacrifices were you willing to make? It’s so easy to say what we would’ve done but you might sing a different tune once you’ve experienced this exhibit. Were you a peaceful protester alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or would you meet fire with fire in the ranks of the Black Panther Movement?

THIS OR THAT?

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If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself torn between movements? You’ll consider your family or maybe even your future. What if you die in the fight? What type of life will you grandchildren have if you don’t put an end to the bullshit today? What type of life will you have if you don’t fight for your rights? What use will your education be if the color of your skin can stop you from advancing your career and providing for your family? How far are you willing to go for your people? How badly do you want to vote? To live as a 2nd class citizen or to die fighting for quality…those were the questions.

Your voice will be heard here.

I just revel in the opportunity to speak on the many issues affecting black and brown folks in this country and abroad. Whoever had the awesome idea of placing video booths all over the museum–you da man! These were a huge hit with me. I recorded my raw feelings inside of the civil rights exhibit. Peep the video below. I never intended to post it because I was fumbling quite a bit but it’s myself and a friend answering in the most raw form to prompts within the booth…

Ooh, I got cut off but you see where I was going with it, right? My activism stems from the fact that my younger cousin was killed by police. My activism is also in honor of the many men and women who are wrongfully convicted or handed harsher prison sentences than whites who’ve committed the same crime. My activism is rooted in improving the education of our children and increasing the access to healthy foods in Black communities. I could go on for hours so I plan on adding more to my reflection during my next visit. If vlogging is not your thing…

You can contemplate in the Contemplative Court.

This photo does it absolutely no justice but this fountain puts me in a Star Trek realm where teleportation is possible and Scottie just beamed me back to the Amistad. I’m there, I’m witnessing everything first-hand, I’m thinking, I’m reflecting. I’m envisioning my ancestors…scared, lonely and fearful of what’s to come. I’m watching centuries of tears and oppression. Man, it gets deep in there. Allow yourself to feel what you’ve just experienced.

You won’t get through the entire museum in one visit.

A one day visit will scrape the surface but you won’t get it all. You’ll need to double back once the fanfare has cooled off and you’re free to move about at your leisure. I know, you want to go during opening week. It’s a big deal and you want to be a part of all the excitement BUT trust me when I say, wait a few months. Let the crowds thin a little if you’re traveling from afar and want to savor the experience.

That’s all folks! Oh, I wanted to leave you with these two really cool keepsakes I got just by riding the train and showing up to the museum. My “Dedication Day” pin and my “Celebrating A Cultural Legacy” metro card donned with the Parliament-Funkadelic Mothership.

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Yawl, this weekend felt so good to be Black! Love, Peace & Afro Grease!

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