Guest Columnist

Unraveling the relevance of African American history

Sophie Miller-Fall, 6, of Swisher draws artwork of peace as she decorates a panel as part of a Peace Pole with her grandmother Ruth Miller of Cedar Rapids at the African American Museum of Iowa in southeast Cedar Rapids on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. Veterans for Peace Chapter #169 partnered with the museum as a site where people could create and decorate wooden boards, which were displayed in the Corridor to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of integration, and his teaching of peace. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Sophie Miller-Fall, 6, of Swisher draws artwork of peace as she decorates a panel as part of a Peace Pole with her grandmother Ruth Miller of Cedar Rapids at the African American Museum of Iowa in southeast Cedar Rapids on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. Veterans for Peace Chapter #169 partnered with the museum as a site where people could create and decorate wooden boards, which were displayed in the Corridor to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of integration, and his teaching of peace. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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In 2019, museums don’t just showcase history, they are responsible for demonstrating how history impacted yesterday and unraveling its relevance today. The African American Museum of Iowa’s vision is to build a community that comes together to foster greater understanding and appreciation of Iowa’s African American history and culture through conversation, engagement and reflection.

As we’ve taken on the challenge, you can see this vision take shape through our weaving in of current local and national themes like migration and immigration. The museum’s current temporary exhibit, Driven By Hope, explores Iowa’s African American migration from the end of the Civil War through the Great Depression. Future exhibits will take on hair and modern protest, addressing social justice issues from the past and the present. Like the Museum’s exhibits, our programming and events during Black History Month will, we hope, make you think and challenge you to engage.

Here is a snapshot of just a few of the programs we have planned for February:

• Endless Possibilities presentation — an exploration of African American history, struggle and contribution in Iowa. Tues, Feb. 12, 7 p.m. at the Marion Public Library.

• Behind the Beat — exploration of African American musical influences and impact. Wed., Feb. 19, 7 p.m. at the African American Museum of Iowa.

• “The Talk: Race in America” — screening and discussion of the documentary, moderated by Karl Cassell. Thurs., Feb. 21, at 5 p.m. at the Cedar Rapids Downtown Library.

• Humanities Iowa Presentation by Prof. Dwain Coleman — how African American Civil War veterans built communities in the Midwest after the war. Tues., Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. Council Bluffs Public Library.

The museum started the year with a very well received MLK, Jr. Day commemoration. The peace pole activity and $1-day admission brought in more than 250 visitors who participated in Veterans for Peace sponsored activity and self-guided tours of the museum’s gallery. As we sprint into February and the national recognition of Black History Month, the museum is busier than ever with requests for tours, presentations and reservations for our various traveling resources. Our team has established some significant programming efforts for this year. Some will be inspiring, some intense, some fun, but all for the educational enrichment of our communities. From a protest art project with several community partners to a facilitated documentary series, engagement and reflection is indeed part of our long-term plan. Above all, we want to educate. As the late, great novelist James Baldwin understood, “The paradox of education is precisely this — that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.”

The African American of Iowa’s doors are open year-round.

• LaNisha Cassell is executive director of the African American Museum of Iowa.

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