– [Lori] Good morning, everyone.
– [Woman] Good morning.
– Good morning, I’m Lori Fogarty. I’m the director of the Oakland Museum of California. And I am– Very pleased to make the introduction this morning for our keynote address. Love is a great power; use it to transform your world. These are the words of today’s speaker Ericka Huggins. And the words by which she has lived her whole life. Ericka Huggins is a human rights activist, poet, educator, Black Panther Party leader, a former political prisoner, and a good friend of museums. Ericka’s desire to serve humanity began in 1963 when she attended the March on Washington for jobs and freedom. It was there that she committed to moving to the front lines of the global human rights movement.
In 1968, at age 18 she became a leader in the Los Angles chapter of the Black Panther Party with her husband John Huggins. And she’ll tell you a little bit more about that. In May of that same year, Ericka and fellow Party leader Bobby Seale were targeted and arrested on conspiracy charges sparking the Free Bobby Free Ericka rallies across the Country. While awaiting trial for two years before charges were dropped, including time in solitary confinement, Huggins taught herself to meditate as a means to survive incarceration. From this time on she would incorporate spiritual practices into daily life, her community work, and her teaching as a tool for change not only for herself but for all people.
From 1973 to 1981, Ericka was director of the Oakland Community School, a groundbreaking community-run child development center and elementary school founded by the Black Panther Party. She created the vision for the innovative curriculum for the school which became a model for and predecessor to the charter school movement. In 1976, Ericka Huggins became both the first woman and the first black person to be appointed to the Alameda County Board of Education in the Bay area.
Since 1979, Ericka has been working in California prisons and jails and also youth correctional facilities teaching yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. In 1990, at the height of public awareness for HIV/AIDS, Ericka joined the world-renowned Shanti Project and developed a unique volunteer support program for women and children with HIV in the Tenderloin and Mission districts of San Francisco. And helped develop city-wide programs for the support of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth with HIV/AIDS. Ericka was a professor of women and gender studies at San Francisco State University and California State University-East Bay. And most recently a professor of sociology and African American studies in the Peralta Community College district. Ericka was also a collaborator, partner, spiritual guide, and muse for our museum’s exhibition: All Power to the People, Black Panthers at 50, last year.
After Ericka’s remarks we are going to engage in dialogue with the audience, and I just wanna give you the heads up that we will have these very cool little Nerf squares. That we will be tossing to the audience. They are microphones, so you can speak right into this. And play a little catch, and have a little dialogue with us. It’s now my pleasure, museum friends, to introduce and please join me in welcoming, Ericka Huggins.
– [Ericka] Silence is beautiful, isn’t it? Good morning, everybody.
– [Audience] Good morning.
– [Ericka] And thank you for being here. I wanna thank Dean Phelus, I wanna thank Veronica Mooney. The queen of conference planning. I wanna thank the Oakland Museum, Lori Fogarty, Kelly McKinley, Renee DeGuzman for inviting me, first, to be here for the panel yesterday. And I wanna thank all of you from all over the United States for doing what you do tirelessly and continually to make educational work happen through museums. Educate, engage, elevate.
Throughout some of our lives museums have been a place to reflect on the past, to be in the present, and look toward the future. The word museum literally means a building in which objects of historical, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and shown to the public. Educate. A huge topic in the last two days at this conference is making museums accessible and welcoming for everyone. This means that they must be diverse, inclusive in exhibit planning, content, and staffing. We know that diverse leadership can foster a shift in decision making, isn’t that true? Oh, come on, y’all.
– [Audience] Yes!
– Yes! Because the more ideas at the table, the better the something you’re creating. This can be the legacy of your museum in Hometown USA. You can assure access at every level of museum life. So let me tell you my story. As a girl growing up in Washington DC, I participated in one field trip after another. The school bus drove from southeast DC to Northwest because there were no museums in or near our neighborhoods. And we would go to the ballet, the theater, the galleries, and the museums. And teacher told us the trips would keep us from being culturally deprived. Her tone dismissed the possibility of little black girls and boys already holding and expressing culture. The nation’s Capital was filled with museums. But I didn’t connect with the often sterile exhibitions. I dreaded the fourth and fifth grade field trips that required me to be quiet. Single file please. Don’t touch anything!
There was no permission to engage the docents. No space for alternate points of view; I was bored. I was painfully aware as a teenager that the books used in public schools lacked the full United States history. Do you know what I mean? The holocaust of North American indigenous people. And the robbery of African men, women, and children from their homes and their subsequent enslavement in a land far away. In answer to my daily questions, my teachers and my mother told me that books and museums were depositories of knowledge and history, go there. And so I visited and I read, and I walked away with more questions. Who decides what historical areas are researched and presented? Which high points in global and local timelines are marginalized or removed?
Through whose lens is the visual, auditory, and written commentary on an era, and the people who lived it made public? Who’s uplifted or dismissed? Who speaks for me? Who tells my story? I was invisible. And I said I’d lived in southeast DC where there was no ready educational, social, or political resource to prepare me and my friends to navigate a hostile world. History books didn’t tell us about the culture of the continent of Africa. And my mother and father were not given that history either, so they could not tell it to me. When schools reminded me that I was culturally deprived, I asked, “Which culture?”
My heart told me something different than what teachers were saying. The beauty of the quilt sewn by elder women from scraps made into African patterns in the country, as my mother called it, in North Carolina. My grandmother’s homestead, the lush, green North Carolina fields where cotton and it’s history have thrived for decades. The pungent smell of the silent, warm tobacco barn on my grandfather’s farm. Osi, the son of a freed slave made this farm with his hands for his wife and 11 children. The kind and easy ways of the South I knew, the hymns, the songs, the food, the laughter, the poetry of life of my five aunts and my five uncles.
I was never denied access to this. This living African culture. And as Lori said when she introduced me, at age 15 I went to the March on Washington for jobs and freedoms. And what happened there was, though all of the women were uninvited to speak, Lena Horne stood to the front of the stage, the songbird, the actor, the activist, and she sung two words: Free dom And when those words landed on our ears and entered our hearts, a silence fell over the thousands of people that day. And out of that silence, arose these words from somewhere deep in me: I will serve people for the rest of my life. I wanted to be a part of that which moved. Which moved my family, my communities, my world forward.
I recognized that my family tree was a living, resilient, human example of life lived after centuries living in a racially violent social environment. And yet, after high school, to please my mother by becoming one of the first of my family to go to college, I went to a historically black university to become a teacher. There I learned that social systems across the United States of America until at least 55 or 60 years ago, didn’t allow men and women like my mother and father, my grandparents to vote.
Even though women were granted the right to vote in 1921, women of color were forced to wait until the Voting Rights Act in 1963. There were these laws that didn’t allow me to drink water from the same source as white people. To breathe the same air in a restaurant or in a school. And so I tried to make sense of this nonsense. Engage. I was one of the first 15 women to enter that historically black university. And that university was one of the three open during slavery And I’ll never forget the night when I looked across the road from the campus and there was a blazing wooden cross. And I stood. And I said to myself, “I must be brave.” while there at Lincoln, Stokley Carmichael and Charles Hamilton were writing the now famous book, a tiny little book called Black Power.
And each Tuesday, Antoine, they would call a few of us together, and we’d sit on the floor and they’d read to us from the unpublished manuscript. What was the power they spoke about? It was really simple. It wasn’t scary to anybody. It was: To understand history first have knowledge of it, understand it. And then to reclaim the right to determine our own destinies. Power.
It was 1967, and one day in the students’ center I was given a magazine, and I read about Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party for self defense. And shortly thereafter, I left Lincoln with John Huggins, my friend and husband to be, to travel the United States, to California and join the Black Panther Party, an organization that worked on behalf of all black, and all poor people. Did you know that? All poor people. And we formed coalitions, by the way, with every organization that existed during that great time of the movement, which is how we got the nickname Vanguard. I was 18 when we got in that little car and started driving from Pennsylvania to California. John was 21. We were married and soon we were pregnant. And then, three weeks after our baby daughter was born on January 17th, 1969, in the middle of the day, John and my dear friend Al Prince’s Bunchy Carter, members of the Los Angles chapter of the Black Panther Party and students at UCLA were killed. They were assassinated, actually. In Campbell Hall on that campus.
A month later I was asked by the community to start the New Haven, Connecticut chapter of the Black Panther Party after I’d arrived in Connecticut, John’s hometown, to bury him. And a few weeks later, my baby was three months old. I was arrested with Bobby Seale, co-founder and Chairman of the Black Panther Party. We stood trial for our lives. And as it was said earlier, the phenomenal response to the trial sparked Free Bobby, Free Ericka rallies, not just in the United States, but all around the world. And I am forever grateful to all of the people, the students, the professors, the folks that came out to stand for justice. And I wish the same for those incarcerated today. Whether they’re a member of the Movement, or whether they ended up in prison for other reasons, I think that we need to work toward healing practices rather than punitive ones.
Both John and Bunchy’s murders and the trial that Bobby and I were forced to … Enter were orchestrated by the clandestine subset of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Counter Intelligence Program, or Co-Intell-Pro. So, they’re imprisoned to save my life and my sanity, and to be able to be present with my baby daughter when she came to visit for one hour, once a week. I taught myself to meditate. And in isolation I began to find out just what a treasure is inside every human heart. And I wondered, “Why wasn’t I told this when I was a child?” Why aren’t we educating the children to know that there is great power within us? And through this spiritual practice that I have continued every day until this day, including this morning, I meditate and I recognize the openness in humanity. Even as the darkness struggles to gain power once again. There is humanity.
After two years, obviously the charges against me and Bobby were dropped. And I went back to California with my daughter, who was two and a half by that time to serve as a writer for the Black Panther Party newspaper. Which was read and still is read, old, tattered copies of it, by thousands of people around the world. The news wouldn’t tell us the truth, so we wrote the best that we could, the real stories. And I worked daily in many of the party’s 65 community survival programs, and in 1973 I became the director of the Oakland Community School, a community-based, tuition-free, child center. Parent friendly elementary school in the heart of East Oakland. And I can’t assume you know East Oakland, but think of any black and brown community wherever you live that is East Oakland. Our motto at this school: The World is a Child’s Classroom. And we’d built the school not because we were knowledgeable educators at the time, but because we continually reflected on what would we have needed to be fully educated? For our whole beings to be educated?
So when the children asked us for insight into the histories of black, indigenous, Latin American, Asian American peoples and their cultures, because there weren’t found answers to these questions were not found in history books. We found the answers for them. And I just wanna say, this was the late-1970s. There was no internet. There was no Google. There was no social media. And the museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco had not yet been born.
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture was not there yet. And the Oakland Museum of California had not yet been revitalized. So when there was no exhibition or exhibit worthy of a field trip, the Oakland Community School staff brought the histories of people to the children and to the larger community. And the children spoke to beloved friends like, Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, Son Ra, Maya Angelo, and the favorite visit for me was a visit of James Baldwin. And they were living history. And I was inspired.
Museums can also be, and many of them already are, inspired, revolutionary educational spaces. And thank you to those of you who are making that happen. Who are pushing the veritable envelope for creativity. Museums can tell stories like mine. Museums can tell the story of my husband John Huggins. Museums can tell your children about the life of my friend Bunchy Carter, who turned his peers away from gang war to the movement for freedom.
Museums can offer breakthrough solutions for restoring justice on our planet. Restoring our world and changing our most pressing social challenges. That is, if our contiguous histories and cultures are made visible, when young, raise your hand if you’re young. That means your under 40. Just raise your hand. Yay! Okay. Yay! Did you see see it? Do you feel it? It’s an honor to acknowledge you for raising, the ones who raised their hands.
When young and women of color and men of color and immigrant people and queer people, and those with the lived experience of poverty, like our friend Kevin Jennings told us yesterday, are given curatorial and directorial access to the rooms, the halls, the screens, and the precious glass boxes of museums, then the decisions about which histories, which bodies are revered, which hallowed names become our heroes and sheros?
This positions us all for a brighter future. However, this means that the area in which one lives, her place, her position or state of affairs must be the focus of collective research, made part of public discussion, and shared with all. Especially the children. There are small and larger museums and galleries sprouting in cities, or already existing in cities and states all over the United States and in other parts of the world.
And I have had the great honor and privilege to visit a number of them. Not all of them. I’ve gotta get a big tour bus, and like, just travel to museums. So many beautiful things are happening. How many young people that raised their hands are working in a museum now? Thank you. But first I wanna mention to you is the Afro-Brazilian Museum in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where the parallels between the enslaved Africans who were sold there after their ships landed, and the enslaved Africans who were sold here after the ships landed, is made clear and visible. The ships went everywhere. And then there’s MOAD, the Museum of the African Diaspora. In San Francisco. Okay, you can cheer. It is a great place, please visit. Where I was in conversation with a young man named Ronald Porter, at the time a PhD candidate at UC-Berkeley in Africana Studies. And our conversation was about the presence of LGBTQ people in the Civil Rights and in the Black Liberation Movements. That was the best conversation. And if someone’s mind thinks, “Oh, how’d they do that?” It was just done. It just happened. It’s Diosporic.
The Oakland Museum of California, where the community collaborated with members of the Black Panther Party, young activists, scholars, and again, just folks, to create All Power to the People, The Black Panther Party at 50. The museum director Lori, the curators, the staff were so committed to having an exhibit that represented not the museum but the people who lived during that harrowing time in history. And then there is the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Don’t even let me know if you haven’t been there yet. Don’t don’t, please, don’t let me know You must go, and go again and again and again and again and you must spend time, and learn, and bring the learning back. If you haven’t, but many of you have been there. I know ’cause I’ve asked. It is … Heart-opening, heart wrenching, touching, lovely, it makes you smile, it makes you cry. It is so different from the little closet-like thing that used to be in DC calling itself African American Museum And I am sending all kinds of wishes for funding, and moving the boulders out of the way for the Latin American Museum Center, and the Asian American Museum Center. There must be money. There must be resources that will make that happen. And what I like about the Smithsonian? I mean, there’s so many things I like, but the most astounding thing is everywhere I went on all those floors in that beautiful museum, is that there were young people of color in curatorial roles, in making things happen, in planning the exhibits, and in greeting people that they’d never met as they came in. I was smiling so much my face hurt. Because this was different. What I saw was different from the little girl who was bored and made invisible all those decades ago in DC.
In these places, the four I named, I felt seen. So, when your child goes on a field trip to one of the large, well-funded local museums to learn the history for instance of the indigenous people who were the real founders of what we call the United States envision the curators, the staff, the docents as tribal peoples. Elevate. When you look around at staff, your members, your community outreach, who is there and who is missing? When you look at your decision-making processes, who is there and who is missing? We are on a precipice of new understanding.
Young people in our institutions are reminding us that knowledge wanes without action. Action without knowledge is shallow. What action can we take together using our knowledge of the conditions of all the people that live in our communities? What can we do? We all aspire to be more connected. What is the work that needs to be done to achieve that goal? Our institutions can model it.
Now I work with internationally, and of course locally, helping schools, universities, agencies, and institutions to make a world in which all people with all of their coinciding identities, histories and experiences seen. I facilitate discussions and have seen first hand the power to transform fear into openness, and resistance into willingness. I wanna thank all of you for being a part of that. For being brave in these times. There’s an African tribal greeting that I love. And it’s simply like this, and I’d like you to join me in it. The greeting is: I see you! And the response is: I am seen.
I see you!
– [Audience] I am seen.
– I see you!
– [Audience] I am seen.
– I see you!
– [Audience] I am seen.
– Doesn’t that–
– [Audience] I am seen.
– I am seen. I am seen. Doesn’t it feel great? Rather than, “Hey, what’s up?” Or, “Good morning!” And then you say, “Well, it’s not really a good morning.” “Too much information, I’m sorry.” So, I think we have time to engage, to have dialogue. I don’t have the answers to questions, but collectively we do. So, we’re going to engage, and the fun catch boxes are appearing. And we’ll start with whoever has the catch box. It’s a microphone inside there.
Is it on? I think it’s on.
So we’ll be catching wisdom as it goes around the room. So, I’m gonna move away from the mic. And we will engage. Do you have something to say?
– [Tracy] I do, my name is Tracy Jones.
– Hi, Tracy.
– [Tracy] Hi! I represent the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama.
So, home of Angela Davis, Sonia Sanchez, thank you. I’m sorry.
– Will somebody give her a hug?
– [Tracy] Thank you for representing all women. Fighting so hard for us to be seen in places where people don’t understand oppression. And they can’t see privilege. Thank you for allowing me an opportunity to work in a space to empower other people. To fight for people who can’t, who hasn’t found their voice. And I just wanna say thank you.
– Thank you.
– [Ericka] Hi. I’m over here on the other side.
– Are you standing?
– [Ericka] I’ll stand.
– [Ericka] I am struck by your invitation about young people.
– Can you say your name.
– [Ericka] I’m Ericka Segall, I work at the UC Botanical Gardens.
– I still don’t see you; I’m looking for you.
– [Ericka] Hard to miss, but if you’re waving. I see you!
– I am seen! And you were asking?
– [Ericka] I was struck by your invocation of the young people in the audience. And you’re welcome to them. And I think I’d like to sort of remind us that people who aren’t young like you and me, have a huge amount to contribute. One of the powerful things about the Black Panther exposition was that it did reflect the voice not only of young peoples’ experience, but of how that experience has transformed people through their lives, so I hope that you’ll continue to be a voice of people who lived powerful experiences when you were young, reflected on them over X years, and now share them with other people. And I think other museums have that possibility, too.
– Thank you.
– [Ericka] I’d like to encourage us older people not to see the the efforts of the younger people and to add our experience to that voice.
– And I would take it one step further, Eric, right?
– [Ericka Yes, that’s right.
– And that is that we become mentors for younger people.
– [Ericka] Yeah.
– So that they are not scrambling to figure out history. That means we have to do our work to be honest and true to that history, and not be afraid to break through. Young people are depending on us, and I acknowledge them ’cause so often in rooms like this we do not acknowledge young people. And it’s so important that the people, because we’re not going to live forever. Sorry. That the young people will be here. And what legacy are we leaving? So, certainly you and I would not even be here today if it weren’t for what we were doing when we were younger. We have a responsibility. Is there another question? Or comment? Does somebody have a catch box? There’s a hand right here. Oh, there are two? Okay, and then when you are done there’s a person up, can you raise your hand again so he can see you? He’s behind you. In front of you, see her hand? If you throw it to her, that’d be great.
– [Russell] Alright, hello, everyone, my name is Russell Garnett from the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. I’m a native Washingtonian from southeast DC, as well. One of the things that did stand out for me was, again, the thought and acknowledgment of young people. I guess I am one of those young people who–
– Can you hold the mic?
– [Russell] Yes.
– There’s a reverb, it’s not you, but.
– [Russell] I am one of those young people who, when I used to go into museums as a younger person didn’t see myself, not only in the exhibits, but also in the staffs. But one of the things that brought me to the museum in which I work now was because I walked into those doors and the person greeting me and that took me on my tour looked like me, and that was an important thing for me. Living in Washington DC at that time you know it was chocolate city.
– That’s right.
– [Russell] And I’m going into a museum and I didn’t see people that looked like me so when I did it meant a lot. And I was able to kind of, pay that forward to the young people that I work with. They’re able to see someone that looks like themselves, as well, so, thank you. Just thank you, I appreciate it.
– Thank you.
– [Dr. Davis] Okay. So, good morning.
– Good morning.
– [Dr. Davis] My name is Doctor Bert Davis, I’m one of the board members of AAM. I think I speak for all board members and all members and staff, and everyone here, a resounding thank you for being here. Two things: Could you expound on the role of women in the Black Panthers? And also, you talked about LGBTQ, and the role of Bayard Rustin on the Civil Rights Movement.
– Mm hmm. Women didn’t have a role in the Black Panther Party. Women ran the Black Panther Party.
– [Dr. Davis] Okay.
– My friend Tarrica Lewis who was the first woman to join the Black Panther Party said, that when she walked in the office at age 16, she said the brothers just laughed. She said, “What y’all laughing at? “I’m here to serve the people.” And Bobby Seale said, “That’s right. “Be quiet, y’all.” And she joined. And she’s an artist, a violinist, and she’s still an artist and a violinist, but she parked that in order to do all of the things that she did including many of the back covers of the Party newspaper. So, because we live in a very sexist and homophobic society, systemic homophobia, systemic racism, and it is systemic sexism, it’s important to look at what we were taught about who makes decisions. But the point I wanna make is the FBI and local law enforcement arrested all the men first thinking that we were just–
– [Man] You weren’t at fault.
– Wrong Because we were the glue. And if Bobby Seale were here today he would tell you this: That it was the women who took the vision and grounded it and made it happen in those 65 community survival programs. It took a while for men to understand that women might be telling them how to do something. But that was because of the terrible social education we’d all been given. And we’re still working with that today. By the way, let me just remind you. That’s what I mean by us all doing our inner work. And so, women in the Black Panther Party didn’t come to find a man. Nor did women in the Civil Rights Movement. I wanna tell you about a really great book. It’s called The More Beautiful and Terrible History. And that title is taken from a quote from James Baldwin. And it’s about the women, including Coretta Scott King in the Civil Rights Movement. It is a beautiful book, and Tracy, read that book. And have it available if you can at the museum where you work. It is phenomenal. Because it takes Coretta out of the, and others, out of the shadow. It takes Rosa off that dang bus. And puts her into the real life she lived. And it also talks about the history of this. It’s written by Jean Theoharis. A dear friend of mine. So, your other question about Bayard Ruskin and Alan Locke, and all of them is that, this systemic homophobia causes them to hide. To protect the movement. How many of you heard Kevin Jennings yesterday? That was so, I was in tears. It was so beautiful. And he talked bout that hiding that his Uncle Mickey had to do. That he had to do. And we should never have to hide who we are. All the bits of us should come in the door when we walk through. But we’ve been trained to believe otherwise. So, I believe you can find Ronald Porter’s dissertation. The name of it isn’t fully in my mind; I don’t want to booger it up. You know, he did get his degree at UC-Berkeley in Africana Studies. And he currently teaches in Florida. And he wants to do that kind of conversation again. He is the … He’s so eloquent about that history which relates directly to his own life, and to mine. So, thank you for those questions, I really appreciate it. How many more minutes to we have? Or, what is our timeframe? Yeah, I see you. I was just asking how much more time we had. Somebody will tell me.
– [Woman] 10 minutes.
– 10 minutes? Thank you.
– [Kaliesha] Okay, Miss Huggins?
– Yes, she was next, and then the woman right there. Thank you for your patience, yes?
– [Kaliesha] Hi, my name is Kaliesha Davis.
– [Kaliesha] I’m director of community outreach and engagement at the Detroit Historical Society.
– At Detroit?
– [Kaliesha] Historical Society. And we are still in the midst of the Detroit ’67 Project. It’s our endeavor to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Uprising of 1967; it’s something we’re very proud of and pleased to have received the National Medal just this month for our work.
– That is so, did everybody hear her?
– [Kaliesha] Thank you.
– [Kaliesha] So, it’s people like you in our community that really elevated the history and made it real and relevant for people of all ages. But it took a bit, and we know now what it takes to bring a story like that to the forefront and use it as a catalyst for conversation and change. And I’m curious and I’m wondering, especially based on your experience working for the Oakland Museum or with them as an advisor, like, what would you recommend to other museums and institutions that want to peal back the layers but have some level of hesitation based on the support they have or their boards, or what they would perceive as the public response. Like, how to get past some of those barriers and get to something that’s actually real?
– Can the Oakland Museum people raise your hands? Because I’d like you to meet her. Would you raise your hands? Check with them later.
– [Kaliesha] Yes, I was just there last year. And yeah, I totally follow you, follow you all, too, on Twitter, so you guys are all.
– One of the things that I love that Oakland Museum did was listening circles with their staff, their board, and others. Listening is such a powerful tool for what is really being asked or said. Because we live in a culture in the United States where we have made an unsaid promise not to talk about race We have. Then, when we begin to talk about it in a place that isn’t, we look for safe places. Let me say, “Look for a brave space.” A space in which all the ideas can be stated without somebody pouncing on them. Listen for what other question might be underneath the question asked, and stay in the conversation. Lori, I think it was, said yesterday that they were concerned that there might be a particular type of pushback from various levels of the museum. But that didn’t really happen. There were some questions that happened that were brought up in these listening circles, but through dialogue they were able to really look deeply at what is the fear, actually? Because racism, actually, is fear. Sexism is fear. Homophobia is fear, it’s not really hatred as Mahatma Gandhi said. So, that is one thing. And talk. Again and again and again to people who have lived the experience and use that as part of your conversation with others. So, thank you and good luck in everything you’re doing. I can’t wait to visit.
– [Kaliesha] Thank you, appreciate that. Yeah, we would love to have you. Please come.
– I’d love to be there.
– [Kaliesha] Come see us, everybody in the room come see us.
– [Paulina] Hi, Ericka. I’m really little so if I stand maybe you are not going to see me anyway. My name is Paulina. I came from Santiago, Chile. I work at the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art. I invite all of you to go to see me. It’s a really long way but it’s worth it. We are here now because of you, because of women like you. We had Angela Davis just a few months ago, actually.
– [Paulina] We didn’t have rights. We didn’t have a voice.
– Mm mm.
– [Paulina] So please don’t take this lightly, museum workers, men and women. We have social responsibility. Just the other day I saw something that broke my heart. I saw a booth that had guns. It was from a museum, I don’t remember which name. But it was just at the end of the stairs going to the museum expo. The display of the guns was like they were toys. And I saw some of you museum workers taking those guns and taking pictures, selfies. What are we doing? We are living such violent times. Women are getting killed, raped, we don’t walk safely to our homes. Did you know how do you feel every day? My friend has to ask me, “Did you get home?” Because we don’t know if we are gonna get home. Latin American women, African American women, Maccucha women, indigenous women, women from all around the world. And I see a booth with guns. That’s dangerous; don’t take things lightly. Thank you.
– When we are truly diverse, when our … Museums are equitable in staffing then comments, observations, and even critique like yours can be heard if we are open. So if you’ve felt some kind of need to rebut what she said, listen more deeply. And thank you. Thank you. I think we have one more, is that right? Two more or one more? I couldn’t see your fingers. Two!
– [Rebecca] Good morning.
– Good morning.
– [Rebecca] My name is Rebecca DuPoise and I’m also from the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, and I’m looking for some advice. The conversations that I’ve been having or eavesdropping on, reading on Twitter have been about inclusion and erasure for people of color in the Museum field. And a lot of times our passion in the fight is mistaken as aggression–
– [Rebecca] Or anger.
– [Rebecca] And it’s very tiring. So, as you were going through your amazing journey, and clearly you were steadfast in it, what were the encouraging words that you had within your self or that you received to keep going and not simply find another space to try and do the good work?
– I said a few minutes ago that racism is actually not hatred, it’s fear. And there is a, like, in the psyche of America is the fear of retaliation for the enslavement of Africans. It’s real, I’m not making it up, I didn’t think of this yesterday. It’s real and it also has been researched. For those of you who want scientific evidence and proof. And we have not healed. South America, and I learned this when I was there, never had a Civil Rights Movement. Nothing, slavery, the end of slavery, boom. But here we have had all kinds of measures to move past the resistance and the fear. But there’s still this psychic memory of slavery that traps us all. And we have to do our work, our inner work. And what you’re talking about as tiring, I know that tiring. Because I facilitate conversations as I travel around the world. At universities for instance, and this might make you laugh where people call me and they say, “Ericka, can you come and lead us in a conversation “about diversity, equity, and inclusion? “We’re in Hawaii.” And one of the people who called me was a friend so I was able to say, “Did you figure that out yesterday?” But then, when I got there, what has helped me is to remember that I’m not alone. I don’t know you yet. But there are people like you out there and that give me strength. There are people like you out there. There are professors on that campus, though they may be the only in rural Minnesota, the only person of color, professor, on the campus. This is true, this is what I see. But I’m heartened by the openness of that one person, of those two people, so look for allies. And I’m not using that word lightly; it gets tossed around. I’m talking about something … As close to John Brown as you can get. Remember him? Someone who has your back but won’t cosign your own off behavior. So yes, it’s tiring. It wakes you up in the night, doesn’t it? That you would be considered angry because you don’t like being treated less than. So, it’s fear, it’s based in fear. And you can be the opposite: You can be courageous. And you can ask questions. I have a friend from Gabon, and I always remember what her mother told me, told her about her fast mouth. Okay? If you don’t understand the term fast mouth, just ask somebody sitting next to you. Her mother told her, “Girl, you speak too quick. “Roll that thing around on your tongue “seven times before you speak.” I love it. Because by the third time, you know you wanna say it differently, right? By the fifth time you might know that that something needs to wait for another day. And by the seventh time you’re able to be, what’s that word we love to use? Articulate. I don’t do that. So. It will be clear; it will be direct. And we hope it will be compassionate. Because when people are, think about fear for yourself. When you are fearful your behavior is probably not rational, is it? Like, what’s a fear that a lot of people have?
– [Man] Public speaking.
– Public speaking. What else?
– [Woman] Reading the news.
– Heights, my mother had that one. She rode no escalators. Because she was positive she could fall through. It was real for her, so I didn’t laugh or dismiss it. It was a real fear, but it’s not rational. So, think about your own fear as you’re rolling that thing that you wanna say around on your tongue, think about you as a human being and what you would need if you were fearful. But don’t spend too much time with a fearful person who is not ready to move. That is my suggestion. Is this the last one?
– [Ida B] Saved the best for last.
– [Ida B] I’m Ida B Tomlin, from Meridian, Mississippi. We just opened the brand new Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience in the small town of Meridian, my home. A home that I ran from in 1970 because I was ashamed of where I grew up. I wanted to be away from the oppression, the discrimination, and wanted to explore the world. I went to Michigan, Massachusetts, and New York, and in Michigan where I started my museum career. I swore that I would never go back home again. This community of museum professionals over the years have given me the courage to go back so that I could be a voice for all of those who still feel oppressed.
– That’s right.
– [Ida B] And that I could be part of a museum that would recognize all the great artist from the state of Mississippi which has so many negative connotations and truisms. And I just wanna thank you for everything that you have done in your career, in your life to encourage little four feet 11 people like me. Thank you very much.
– And I’m sure you’ve read Alice Walker’s book: Meridian. If you haven’t, it’s a wonderful book. And thank you, everybody for your comments your statements, your questions, your concerns, your hesitance. Thank you also to the people who the catch boxes didn’t catch. And thank you for reflecting on the conversation we’ve just had. Thank you so much, and it has been an honor and a pleasure to be with you today. Thank you.