By Torrance Winder and Kyle Graham
The title of this article could be debated in barbershops, offices, and twitter for hours on end. However, I’ll let you know right now that the answer isn’t the first Popeyes, WorldStarHipHop Headquarters, or even Afropunk, which is pretty damn black. In all reality, it’s the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC for short). While I was home in DC for Christmas, my mother got tickets for the family to visit this amazing museum. When my father had to bail we invited my line brother, and fellow Sellers Group contributor, Torrance Winder. Over the course of this post Torrance and I will share some of the thoughts that we had walking through the museum as well as our reflections after we left.
Who are my ancestors and where did they come from?
TW- I’m going to do my best not to share too many details about what’s inside because this is definitely a “MUST see it for yourself” type of place. But in the museum, there is a pretty large statue of Thomas Jefferson. But behind him, is an even larger, and wider pile of bricks; each of them having the name of a slave that he had owned at one point. As soon as I laid eyes on this exhibit, my heart got heavy. I spent time reading each and every name. It felt like my duty to do so. My mother’s maiden name is Jefferson. And I remember growing up, being very young and thinking what if I was related to Thomas Jefferson but simply dismissing the thought because it seemed so weird and foolish and farfetched. But after seeing this display, after reading those names; I’ve never been more intrigued to find out where I come from. I felt the tears welling in my eyes as I thought about their lives and how they could have been intertwined with my own. This put me on a very important and intentional future journey to search to see where I come from.
KG - Like most black people living in this country, I don’t have a true sense of where my ancestors are from. I’m able to trace my maternal roots a decent amount, but my paternal roots are a mystery. Downstairs in the museum there is a wall, and on it contains the name of every slave ship that participated in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the year of its voyage, how many captives boarded, and how many survived. As i walked along the wall and read through this information I was heartbroken. One example came from a ship that started with 170 captives, but only had one survivor by the time it reached the U.S. I couldn’t fathom the horror of that voyage, and the mental/ physical toll it took on that soul. One of my ancestors was on one of these ships. I wish i knew which one. But at the same time, i remembered how strong my ancestors were.
We come from a strong, resilient line of people
KG - As we made our way through the museum I reminded myself of the magnitude of my existence. If it wasn’t for the strong will and resiliency of my ancestors I wouldn’t have be on this Earth today. They fought, struggled, and survived so that I could live free and succeed. Going into 2017 this was the perfect reminder for me to focus and persevere through any and everything. It reminded me that anything issue I may be having is trivial because I have food on my plate, a roof over my head, but most importantly… I have my freedom.
TW- I’m going to reference the slave ships and the Transatlantic Slave Trade that Kyle mentioned in the previous section. We both walked through there, pointing at the numbers that shocked us the most. I got goosebumps thinking about my ancestors being one of those ship and the unimaginable conditions they went through. But also, and my biggest take away from the museum, I thought about how we are the descendants of the strongest and most powerful people to ever exist. They were in circumstances my privileged ass couldn't even imagine and still persevered. They were able to fight so that I could sit here today and live this life that I’ve been so blessed to have. So now when I think I’m tired, or I’ve had enough, or even that I can’t take anymore; I think about how my ancestors didn’t give in, even when faced with some of the scariest, horrendous, and unimaginable circumstances. HOW DOES THAT NOT MAKE YOU FEEL INVINCIBLE?!
Our people have done amazing things
Black Girl Magic & Black Boy Joy
KG - As we made our way to the top floors of the museum to see the exhibits on culture I wasn’t really sure how to feel. We had just taken a journey through a painful history, and I was feeling it all in my soul. However, on the fourth floor i was smacked in the face by black excellence. There were costumes of some of my favorite all time performers, videos from classic comedians, and even Parliament Funkadelic’s “Mothership.” I could have stayed in this one section alone for hours and taken in all of our various accomplishments. It was an interesting juxtaposition to put our dark history in the basement section and our rise to excellence in the top sections of the museum. As we rode the escalators upstairs I could feel the pride in the air. By the time we finished I had a pretty big smile on my face.
TW- It was difficult not to feel pride. You literally walk from the bottom floor where the story is told of the struggle of our ancestors; not due to circumstances of nature, but an intentional struggle that was purposefully imposed. You then move to the top floor, which highlights just some of the amazing things that we were able to do in spite. Everyone who knows me knows I have NO issues with this, but this museum will make you unapologetically black. Celebrating your blackness becomes almost mandatory. It was hard for me not to smile when I walked into the film/television section and saw all of my favorite movies and shows on display or when I walked into the music section, where I could have literally spent hours in. It made me want to tell every other black person in the room just how great they were simply for existing, but I didn’t want to be a creep *inserts upside down smiling emoji*. So to my black brothers and sisters; Share your magic with the world; Spread your joy for all to see. People fought hard for you to be able to do that.
KG - As a native Washingtonian, and cynical black male, I never envisioned that our people would have a museum sitting on the National Mall. Much like having a black president it seemed too far out of reach to ever see in my lifetime. But this young cynic is now 0-2. The NMAAHC is a masterpiece that doesn’t hold any stops. It shows the horrors that our ancestors lived through and the triumphs that we were able to rise to. I would strongly recommend everyone make a pilgrimage to this museum because it will truly change you for the better.
TW- Our blood is full of hard work, resilience, and excellence. We are the definition of conquerors. It is inherently meant for us to succeed. We were born to hustle and make it. It’s what makes us so unique. It is what makes us such a “threat”. I walked out of that museum feeling powerful, hungry for more, blessed, and most of all thankful. Thankful that the blood of conquerors runs through my veins.
For more information on the NMAAHC visit their website here.
Photo Credit: Lee Chapman