Keep expanding museum's impact

Gazette Editorial Board

“Preserving our past to enlighten our future.”

Michael Kates is charged with carrying out that goal, as well as the African American Museum of Iowa’s specific mission: “To preserve, exhibit and teach the African American heritage of Iowa.”

Kates, 40, a Waterloo native, former U.S. Marine and University of Northern Iowa graduate, in May became only the second executive director of the museum, which is nestled between Czech Village and New Bohemia. Most recently, he led the Fort Des Moines Museum and Education Center. Kates replaces Tom Moore, who has been at the helm since 2003 when the permanent museum opened.

The African American Museum of Iowa grew roots and weathered the 2008 flood under Moore’s able leadership. And during our visit with Kates last week, it was clear he has no intentions of being satisfied with the status quo. His primary goals for the next decade or so are to substantially expand the museum’s collections as well as its funding sources, endowment and membership (about 300) — to levels that would justify a building expansion.

All of which we’re glad to hear. The facility Kates will lead is one of the jewels in our community’s array of museums and cultural attractions.

Kates also stressed the museum’s value and role beyond the basic physical attributes. As a resource that can educate Iowans and dispel myths about black history, that’s a “big reason for our existence.”

The museum can help Iowans recognize black history as an important part of our state and American history — not a separate subchapter.

Kates said that’s one reason he wants to do more outreach to schools and get more students through the doors of the museum. Understanding history and its diversity should be no less important to students’ success than math and science.

We agree.

We also encourage Eastern Iowans to visit this museum. See for yourself what you know — and especially don’t know — about Iowa black history. Then challenge yourself and others to learn more.

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