I was given the opportunity to attend an event hosted by the National Alliance for the Advancement of Haitian Professionals (NAAHP) in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, September 29, 2016. While I was there, I decided to visit the newly opened Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Thankfully, I had a ticket. As I approached the Yoruba art-inspired bronze aluminum edifice, people were already assembled at the entrance with their timed passes.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. My interest was piqued by the rave reviews on social media. However, I wanted to go and experience it for myself. I also wanted to be a part of, and partake in, history.
Words can’t describe my experience. My visit to the museum was surreal; it was awe-inspiring, humbling, eye-opening, sad, exhilarating, informative… and every single emotion you can think of. My soul was stirred. I was humbled, because we, as people of African ancestry, are truly benefiting from the sacrificed blood of those who struggled before us, and who are still struggling (as the saying goes, “Aluta continua”).
When you read about history, it’s one thing, but when you SEE – the museum captivates and appeals to all of the senses except for smell, but when you SEE history come to life with the artifacts, it’s otherworldly. Words can’t describe what I experienced. I know one thing for sure: I connected with my ancestors. I also realized that, as a grandfather figure in my life always said, “I lived in the times of giants!” I saw artifacts from Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Prince, Lena Horne, etc.
One of the exhibits showcased a letter written by one of Haiti’s founding fathers, Toussaint Louverture. (By the way, his penmanship was EXCELLENT. Everyone who saw it also agreed that there should come out a “Louverture Font”.) All my life, I was always reminded of this revolutionary, who banned slavery in Haiti and made it the first Black republic. To be in close proximity to a document that he had penned stirred something within the depths of my soul, and I felt a burning sensation as though I was being baptized with fire. Looking up at the sculpted figure of Louverture, I could see a slight resemblance of my Haitian brothers and sisters in him.
“His legacy lay in his actions,” a note read. Those words, too, stirred my soul. There were other artifacts (i.e. Nat Turner’s Bible and Harriet Tubman’s shawl). It will take days to mention the others – more than 35,000 to be exact. Although I spent more than three hours inside, I felt like I did not have enough time, and I was running late for the NAAHP Capitol Hill Welcome Reception.
If you get a chance, please visit the museum. You will never be the same. You will have a better understanding of America’s history and how its plays into today’s current racial and social climate. As I left the museum, a few lessons from my experience stuck with me:
1. Give Respect and Honor Where They Are Due
Most of us live on American soil, but no matter where the Haitian Diaspora lands in the world, we still have the blood of our ancestors running through our veins. For those who are currently living in the U.S.A., we are intricately knitted in the fabric of America’s history. We must acknowledge those who tilled the land with seeds of blood. We must make positive contributions not only in Haiti but also in the communities we call home.
2. Look Back to Move Ahead
I have a better understanding of the African proverb, “Sankofa,” which essentially means, “Look back to move ahead.” In order to move forward, we must understand who we are and where we came from. We can go as high as we want, but to remain grounded and centered, we must stay connected to our roots.
3. We Are Resilient
No matter what type of blow life deals us we are made to be conquerors and overcomers. It’s in our DNA! We must carry on the legacy not only of Louverture but also the many others who struggled and sacrificed their blood so that we can have better lives.