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A Wonderful Tour of the NW African American Museum

By Vivian Lee

On January 29th, twenty one PSARA members participated in a PSARA Diversity Committee sponsored tour of the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM). Before our tour began, we were warmly greeted by Katie Williams, NAAM Public Program Manager.

The tour was led by Seattle Central College Professor Emeritus, Minnie Collins, an excellent docent, who brought the history of the northwest African American community to life. The permanent exhibit, entitled “Journey”, details Northwest African American history on a timeline from the arrival of the first African American to Washington State, George Washington Bush, to the recent arrival of new immigrants from Africa. Prof. Collins got us thinking and talking by asking us what we or our ancestors were doing during some of the significant events on the timeline reflected in the exhibit.

We also viewed two contemporary exhibits. The first is a traveling exhibit entitled “Funky Turns Forty” which displays Black Character animation art from the time in the 1970s when Black cartoons began to display more positive images of African Americans. We also viewed “The Fabric of Our Lives: Tales of Dirty Laundry” by artist Anatacia Tolbert. This very powerful exhibit created for the 150th Anniversary of the passage of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution focusses on the human cost and the determined human spirit associated with winning the rights established by the 13th Amendment.

Following the tour, we had lively small group discussions and lunch at the nearby Fare Start café. The discussion revealed that we were all very impressed with the museum and the exhibits. Without exception, everyone felt they had learned new information from what we viewed and also found the exhibits emotionally impactful .

In our discussion groups there were some interesting observations. To mention a few, one participant noted that she didn’t just learn more about African American history that day. Instead, she learned more about our shared history. Another member commented that African Americans have framed and led the discussion and have taken charge of their own struggles. The progress that has been made is a result of the African American community fighting hard to elevate the issues to public discourse and demanding change. It is also important that other races and ethnicities have assisted after understanding the issues.

The tour made clear that there is strength in numbers. That is what PSARA is all about: organizing numbers of people to act for progressive change. The Diversity Committee gathered suggestions to consider so the Committee can help us all better understand our historical experiences and also encourage more racial/ethnic diversity in PSARA’s leadership and membership.

Vivian Lee is Outreach Vice President of PSARA.

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