GSE Sponsored Student Activity

Posted by Dexter Evans on December 8, 2017

Today, I took a trip to the Smithsonian National African-American Museum of History and Culture. This trip, sponsored by the Penn GSE Student Affairs and the School of Arts and Sciences Student Government, may have been the highlight of my semester. Even considering my evenly spread course schedule, admission to student organizations and fellowships, and overall immersion in the overwhelming resourceful on-campus services; I am most grateful for this necessary, culturally intervening experience. It took for us to arrive and step foot on the pavement outside of the architecturally impressive national monument for me to then realize exactly what this opportunity was made to do. While attending the Smithsonian National African-American Museum of History and Culture (NAAMHC), I reflected on my classes in Africana Studies and realized the museum was created as a tool towards the intervention of the misperceptions and marginalization of Black people in the United States of America. Standing alongside my friends, we walked in looking for more than a cheap trip to Washington D.C.; we entered the NAAMHC looking for a life-altering encounter.

For the NAAMHC to work, the facility needs bodies in the building, i.e. administration, staff, and most importantly, visitors. Without an influx of spectators this building would not survive. Fortunately, the waiting list for this place is extremely long and the museum is crowded with people who want to experience the extraordinary site. On the contrary, it is unfortunate that it has taken almost a century for the stories of African-Americans to be shared on a national scale in such a place as this. It took time and patience to bring such a place together, and I think it would not have been done without a president like Barack Obama in office to push the needle and get the job done. It takes state, local, and in this case, national government to back up the building of a national symbol of pride, such as this. As it grows, the community and financial outpouring will continue to feed its ongoing existence.The responsibility of the museum is to provide visitors with an exhibit of historical and cultural artifacts in a well-organized and preserved space. The NAAMHC did just that. There were multiple ways one could engage, including but not limited to, a walking timeline of the last 400 years of African-American history, layered floors filled with cultural and niched interests of Black society, the Sweet Home café filled with our favorite soul-food dishes, a curated theater, and reflection rooms on each floor so that visitors could leave their legacy within the museums archives.

After visiting NAAMHC the first thought that came to my head was bringing my wife and unborn children to this place. There was a sense of pride and increased awareness of my racial and ethnic identity, which I am sure most Blacks feel after they have visited. I also felt a greater interest and/or responsibility to the cultivation of the legacy of Black people. The multitude of museum is made for a multi day trip, which gives you time to debrief and evaluate how you play a role in all of this. Even while in the museum, I was thankful for the Contemplative Waterfall. It gave the viewers a time in the facility to truly meditate and cope with the magnitude of stressors the historically traumatizing, real experiences of Black people can bring.

The lasting impact the NAAMHC will have on all the world is already being seen throughout the museum. Cleary, Black lives matter, and everyone that visits this museum is taking a strong glimpse into why they matter. Years from now, this museum will continue be a beacon of hope for Black-Americans and hopefully a change agent for all of humankind. There is a story to be told about a person of a different race who can walk through this entire facility and allow their life and though-process be changed. There is power in the story-telling that will happen generation after another as the museum drives on. It took over a century to get here, but now that the Smithsonian National African-American Museum of History and Culture is finally here, the legacy of the consciousness of Black people in American society will never be the same.I am grateful and quite impressed with Penn GSE for taking up an activity like this.