Part 4: A Must See

National Museum of African American History and Culture

For 3 years, I tried to see the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). First attempt, while in DC I tried to get same day tickets but my hotel wifi too slow and weekend tickets were in high demand, tickets were literally gone in a snap. 

Second time, I was more organized and got tickets 3 months in advance (they are free from NMAAHC website). But in 2019, we experienced the longest government shutdown. All the Smithsonian Museums were closed. I left DC disappointed again. 

This year I again booked advance NMAAHC tickets for MLK weekend. No government shut down but the evening before I was to go, I receive an email saying the History Gallery would be closed for repairs.

No way. Really? What are the chances of this happening? Why does the universe not want me to see this exhibit? But I was not deterred.

Next day, I arrived early to NMAAHC, hoping for better news. Standing outside in the cold January rain with a few other diehard visitors, I got the opportunity to chat with some employees standing guard outside. No one could tell me when the History Gallery would re-open again. Everyone politely advised me to check the NMAAHC website every evening for updates. I was explain my sad story to several employees: this is my third trip from Los Angeles to DC and I could not believe I would miss the History Gallery again. The NMAAHC employees were all empathetic to my plight. As a consolation, they would honor my tickets from the previous year and with those tickets, I could come back tomorrow if need be. Maybe the repairs would be complete but no one really knew. Could only stay hopeful. 

At least now I had all day to explore the top two floors of the NMAAHC. I could take my time. No rushing. The bottom subterranean floors are comprised of History Gallery. The top floor exhibit was about present day Black culture and second floor recent Black history. 

Some of the exhibits were so emotionally moving, so emotionally disturbing. By not rushing, I had time to absorb what I needed to absorb. There were moments, I had a hard time holding back my tears. 

The following examples are new things I learned and I cannot forget. 

1968 Olympics: Smith and Carlos
  1. Slavery abolished by the rest of the world. Everyone knew it was morally wrong. Yet Americans continued and made slavery a permanent status. Profits over humanity.
  2. Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The burning down of a successful Black town when Oklahoma became part of the USA.
  3. Lynchings.
  4. Emmett Till, senseless horrific brutal murder of a Black teenager. Triggering people like  Rosa Parker and Martin Luther King, Jr to speak up and the start of the Civil Rights movement. 
  5. Racial discrimination protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos during 1968 Olympic Games. This display reminded me of the Colin Kaepernick protest and #BlackLivesMatter movement today. The same struggles continues.
  6. Present day Angola Penitentiary in Louisiana is in part equivalent to government sanctioned slavery.
  7. Immense resilience and strength shown by black people to overcome tyranny. 

A new admiration of black people. How, by their sheer strength and will power, were able forge ahead and developed a new sense of self, belonging and unique culture.

I needed a full day to see the top floors at the NMAAHC. What I thought at first was a misfortune, ended up being a blessing.

Later, that evening, on NMAAHC website, the History Gallery was going to open tomorrow! 

Things happens for a reason. Karma. I really needed 2 days to appreciate the displays at NMAAHC. 

The History Gallery is a must see.  Somber and humbling. 

A one way elevator takes you down several floors. The History Gallery experience depicts the beauty of Africa during the 14th century and its role in world trade. Then it goes onto to depict, in chronological order, how events evolved into present day Black culture in the United States. 

The dark truth of American history is presented with raw honesty. Overwhelming at times. The amount of hate and bigotry in our country created deep scars. 

The History Gallery revealed that we still hold onto the idea of slavery:

  1. Human ego’s willing acceptance of supremacy over another. 
  2. America’s low minimum wage = slave wages.
  3. American employers can work people so hard, it triggers anxiety and depression.
  4. We need reparation as a way of healing the scars.
  5. Passing laws helps, but not enough. We need to change the hearts and minds of Americans in order to achieve equality.

How to change the hearts and minds of Americans so that we can move forward together. 

Here some ideas: 

1. Teach empathy in school. Start early. In Denmark, one of the happiest countries in the world does this. 

2. Retrain the police to end the fear.

3. End Poverty with a Universal Basic Income as a form of reparation.

If you are more fortunate than others build a longer table and not a taller fence

4. Get more resources to predominantly Black schools and neighborhoods. Education matters.

6. If you are more privileged than others, then reach out to help. Raise others to your level. Then you can both move forward together. 

7. Follow these two examples: Germany’s Never Again Movement for its role in WWII; South Africa’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission after the fall of apartheid. 

How to personally help: 

  1. Make a donation or volunteer. 
  2. Be a Mentor or Coach. 
  3. Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being. Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
  4. Accept the truth about our horrible past and make amends.

“The rest of you, get up. It’s time to go. What makes you human? The better world is still possible. Come fight with me”. Andrew Yang.

A shout out to Shaquetta and Briayna…. These special gals made me feel at home during my trip to DC. 

Grateful to Trevor Noah between the scenes – always enlightening. 

Link to get tickets to NMAAHC: https://nmaahc.si.edu/visit/passes 

Andrew Yang, The War On Normal People, 2018  

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