Community

Be a part of the African American Museum's activism exhibit

Writing project invites community to submit their experiences

Isadora Joseph, 7, reads a statement she wrote for the #x201c;I Can't Breathe#x201d; protest along First Avenue East in
Isadora Joseph, 7, reads a statement she wrote for the “I Can’t Breathe” protest along First Avenue East in Cedar Rapids on May 30. The African American Museum of Iowa is inviting people of all ages and ethnicities to share their thoughts and experiences on protests and issues affecting African American civil rights in Iowa, including Black Live Matters, #MeToo, athletic and LGBTQ rights. The digital submissions will be incorporated into the upcoming exhibit “Unwavering: 21st Century Activism.” The museum also is seeking donations of signs used in the recent protests. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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Iowans of all ages and races can add their voices to “Unwavering: 21st Century Activism,” opening Sept. 19 at the African American Museum of Iowa. Located at 55 12th St. SE, Cedar Rapids, the museum itself is set to reopen on Fridays and Saturday, beginning July 10.

While the “Unwavering” exhibit reflects the current state of unrest, the subject matter was decided upon long before the death of George Floyd sparked global protests.

Staff discussions began two years ago, and the theme was chosen a year ago, said LaNisha Cassell, the museum’s executive director. Even the idea of asking for public thoughts and experiences on activism came before Floyd died May 25, after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Cassell credits the call for online community comments to summer intern Jennifer Miller, a doctoral student in Language, Literacy and Culture at the University of Iowa.

The exhibit, created by museum staff members, will highlight Black Lives Matter and other contemporary movements affecting black civil rights issues in Iowa, including #MeToo and protests for athletic and LGBTQ rights. According to the museum’s website, visitors will “learn how these movements build upon the fight for black civil rights and equality that started over a century ago, and the ways that technology and social media have shaped modern activism.”

The museum also is collecting signs from Iowa protests that may be incorporated into the exhibit or into programming in conjunction with the exhibit. For donation guidelines, and to ensure safe handling, email curator Felicite Wolfe at fwolfe@blackiowa.org

“We don’t need a thousand of them, but it would be great to have some from across the state,” Cassell said, noting that photos are welcome, too. “I’ve seen images from protests — dynamic, powerful images that people have captured already.”

Project guidelines

Deadline is July 1 for the Unwavering Writing Project online submissions, to allow time for incorporating the words into the September exhibit.

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“The general idea is to be able to take the data that we get from the writing, and create a visual that’s accessible or representative in a three-dimensional art piece or a visual tag cloud or some form of interactive digital presence,” Cassell said. “The information even could be used to do programming throughout the run of the exhibit.

“We don’t want to limit it to one specific thing, but to utilize the data that we get for multiple efforts around the length of the exhibit.”

Participants can respond to any or all of five themes outlined at blackiowa.org/unwavering-virtual-writing-project.

• Living In The Present: Think about current events taking place in our nation and our state. What does present day activism look like to you? What different types of activism have you seen and practiced in recent weeks?

• Honoring The Past: Consider the roots of your activism. What is the deeper origin of your daily actions? How does your life follow in the footsteps of those who came before you?

• Imagining The Future: What types of activism would you like to see here in Iowa and around the world? Can you imagine new forms of activism that will change our world? Meditate on the future, what do you envision? Can you imagine new forms of arts activism, fashion activism, sports activism, environmental activism, or political activism?

• Blind Spots: What blind spots have you noticed in yourself or in other people when it comes to activism? Have you been able to address some of your own blind spots? What forms of activism are the most powerful in addressing the blind spots of others?

• Comfort Zones: Sometimes certain situations or specific places can make you feel more or less comfortable as activists. What situations and places make you feel the most uncomfortable? Why? Do you believe activism should take people out of their comfort zones?

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The project is “open to anyone, regardless of age, culture or experience,” Cassell said. “We definitely would love it to be an Iowa tie. I don’t think it would be necessarily a bad thing if we got something from someone in from Canada wanting to participate, but our focus is Iowa, so it would be great to draw that line back to what exists here in our state. ...

“We would love to hear youth express their thoughts and stories, as well,” she added. “I think it’s great. Children — even young children — are being empowered to share their voices right now.”

The project also underscores that the museum is more than just a portal to the past.

“We’ve really been trying to focus on relevancy,” Cassell said. “We’re trying to keep up and let people know we aren’t just preserving history that’s from a couple hundred years ago, but we’re looking at what’s happening right now.”

Virtual Juneteenth

The museum will look to the past in a different way this year, celebrating the end of slavery in America with virtual Juneteenth events Monday through Friday this week, in lieu of the daylong event planned at NewBo City Market before the COVID-19 shutdown.

“We tried to mimic what we would have done if we would have had a live event, where we would have an emcee, stage performances, vendors and food,” Cassell said.

Those components will be offered online throughout the week, featuring recordings of praise dance, rap, spoken word, singing, remarks by vendors and sponsors, as well as links to their sites.

Special features include a tour inside a mobile barbershop; a conversation with Dr. Sharon Collins on physical and mental health at this time; and opera star Simon Estes reading part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “The Other America,” given several times beginning in 1967, and addressing race, poverty and economic justice.

At 7 p.m. Friday, contestants can join in on a Juneteenth trivia fundraiser for the museum, focusing on Juneteenth and black accomplishments in American history and popular culture, with film, television, sports and music rounds. Suggested donation is $10 per player.

Look for event details at blackiowa.org/juneteenth and the museum’s Facebook page.

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Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

More information

• Writing project: “Unwavering: 21st Century Activism” in Iowa; seeking public contributions by July 1; submitted at Blackiowa.org/unwavering-virtual-writing-project/

• Juneteenth: Virtual programming Monday through Friday; details at Blackiowa.org/juneteenth/ and social media platforms

• Museum reopening: July 10; open noon to 6 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays; masks required; admission $6 adults, $5 seniors, $3.50 students and youths; free under age 5 and Museum members

• Details: Blackiowa.org

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