Why Museums Should Be a Safe Space to Discuss Why #BlackLivesMatter

Protests Freddie Gray Baltimore

On April 27, 2015, violence broke out in Baltimore, Md., where a CVS was set on fire, and at least 15 police officers were injured during clashes with protesters over the death of Freddie Gray. (Algerina Perna/TNS/ZUMA Wire) — Image by © Algerina Perna/ZUMA Press/Corbis)

My article “Why Museums Should Be a Safe Space to Discuss Why #BlackLivesMatter” appears in Smithsonian Magazine. Here’s the lede:

The deputy director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture had a problem. At the April 25 symposium “History, Rebellion, and Reconciliation,” her panel was a no show. A law professor and two writers were late and had yet to appear.

So to fill the gap, Kinshasha Holman Conwill called upon “Brother Ellis” and with some heavy coaxing, she convinced Rex Ellis, the museum’s director of curatorial affairs, to sing a duet—a rendition of Bernice Johnson Reagon’s “Ella’s Song.”

“We, who believe in freedom, cannot rest until it comes,” they sang. “Until the killing of a black man, a black woman’s son, is as important as the killing of a white man, a white woman’s son.”

That move, in many ways, defined the spirit of the day-long symposium. The event featured speakers that ranged from the award-winning director Ava DuVernay (Selma) to the Pittsburgh-based emcee and community activist Jasiri X, and pastor Osagyefo Sekou to Black Alliance for Just Immigration executive director Opal Tometi.

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