REMAKING THE WORLD: EXCERPTS FROM THE 2021 OPENING REMARKS BY AAAM BOARD PRESIDENT, LANESHA DEBARDELABEN
Dear AAAM Members,
The legendary Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune once said: “We must remake the world. The task is nothing less than that.” And truly, we must remake this world, our world, after a year like we’ve had, witnessing what we’ve witnessed, enduring what we’ve survived. The task is nothing less than remaking the world anew with our testimonies, our tenacity, our truth.
In every challenge, there is opportunity. Even during this time of closures and for some, reopenings, Black museums have been: first of all united – we are facing similar challenges and embracing opportunities together. Secondly, we have been innovative – we are rising above the challenges we face with grit and grace. And thirdly, we are essential – what we do and who we are is necessary to further understanding, inspire dialogue and bring people together.
For over 43 years now, AAAM has focused on strengthening the field and broadening the possibilities for Black museums and practitioners. All around us are the words and the legacies of those who came before us, those like Dr. Margaret Burroughs, Dr. Charles Howard Wright, John Kinard, Icabod Fluellen, Joan Maynard, Rowena Steward, Margaret Santiago, Bill Billingsley, Aurelia Brooks, and so many others. Because of them, we can remake the world.
Our Executive Director, Vedet Coleman-Robinson, has been an influential force for AAAM’s growth. Under Vedet’s leadership, 979 of you are enjoying AAAM membership, a record high and up by 200 members last year this time. Additionally, under Vedet’s leadership, AAAM has made significant advances in our financial sustainability by securing major grants received over the last year, and we are on target with our Strategic Plan. We have conducted an assessment of the field measuring impact of COVID-19 on Black Museums and cultural institutions, we have launched the AAAM Community, an online space to increase dialogue between members throughout the year funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, we’ve continued our Membership Needs Assessment through the Institute for Museums and Library Services grant, we’ve increased AAAM’s capacity and added board training through the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, we’ve continued the executive coaching program with support from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Office of Strategic Partnerships, we’ve created an internship program in collaboration with Hampton University with support from Thomas and Jeanne Elmezzi, and we’ve launched the Lord Cultural Resources Fellowship. This is just to name a few of the collective accomplishments over the last year.
To help build upon these successes, we have brought on three new talented board members Dr. Noelle Trent, Dr. Joy Kinard, and Dr. Dorothea Williams and a new board Vice President, Omar Eaton-Martinez.
AAAM continues to focus on three key areas: 1. Strengthening the Black museums field, 2. Sustaining the strategic priorities and financial growth of AAAM, and 3. Supporting you, our membership. Strengthening, Sustaining, Supporting. These three activities keep us facing the future with readiness, resilience, and resourcefulness.
AAAM has not been the only one resilient, so have you and your institutions been in tremendous ways. You have not wavered in your steadfast, unmovable commitment to your institutions’ mission. We salute you.
In conclusion, as the 1979 hit by McFadden and Whitehead reminded us years ago, there is no stopping us now, we’re on the move. As the lyrics say, there’s been so many things that’s held us down, But now it looks like things are finally coming around. So, AAAM members and supporters, there is no stopping us now, there is no stopping us in our educating and engaging, in our collecting and preserving, in our storytelling and convening, in our collaborating and partnering, in the ways that we use our heritage to heal and our arts to advance justice and equity. There is no stopping us now. Take full advantage of the virtual conference platform today. Network, attend the sessions, enjoy the warm virtual hospitality AAAM style. And remember the words of Dr. Maya Angelou, who said in her poem a “Brave and Startling Truth” that “When we come to it, We must confess that we are the possible, We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world, That is when, and only when we come to it.”
LaNesha DeBardelaben | Board President | Association of African American Museums