By Barney Blakeney
Last week after the announcement the International African American Museum construction fundraising campaign goal of $75 million had been met, IAAM President/CEO Michael B. Moore granted an exclusive interview to address what that means to the local Black community.
At the outset Moore reiterated the development of the project which began as a concept of former Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley Jr. in 2000 has been community driven in all aspects. College of Charleston History Professor Dr. Bernard Powers, chairman of the programs sub-committee for the 30-member board of directors’ has insured that input, Moore said. He began the interview saying that input has determined how the museum’s staff is being developed as well.
In addition to Moore; Museum Planning and Operations Director Marion A. Gill, Program Director Victoria Smalls, Chief Curator Joy Bivins, Lilly Education and Engagement for Faith-based Communities Director Demett Jenkins and Education and Engagement Director Brenda Tindall have joined the staff over the past two years. Moore says some 40 additional staff members will be hired over the next 18 months. Beyond direct employment, the museum is committed to construction contract and procurement awards that reflect the nature of the project, he said.
While some financial benefits to the local Black community can be measured, other benefits may be more profound and equally as valuable, Moore said. Its impact in education, because of an ambitious education agenda, will be enormous, he said.
Tindall said the museum won’t be just a facility, but an interactive component that incorporates curriculum and programs to challenge historically narrow perceptions, traditional paradigms and draw connections between Charleston and the greater world beyond. Jenkins said her job will be to establish relationships with the faith-based community to tell the story of the unique role of religion in local Black History.
The psychological dividends will be invaluable, Moore said. “It’s important that we build a space where young people can see people who look like them who have contributed to building the city and state. But this won’t be a static facility. It will interact with far more people outside the museum than in. It won’t be a space where you come, look and leave.”
With various spaces moving from the outdoor memorial garden and reflection area to the Center for Family History which will offer DNA services, and spaces for banquets and events, the museum is being designed to meet a number of needs to serve the community, Moore said. Foremost among them is the Social Justice station being designed to address issues such as economic, health and legal justice.
Lastly the museum’s focus will be one of going forward, Moore said. Bivins said the museum’s opening in 2020 marks a definitive point in time, but the museum’s mission is infinite. And as time progresses, there will be a lot of opportunities to make decisions going into the future. Noting that children at Royal Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston raised $5,000 toward construction of the museum, the project has evolved into that mission, Moore said. Tindall sees that mission including a transformation that can intervene in young lives. “Whatever we do has to live beyond the building,” Gill said.