People have great ideas alllllll the time, but MOST are never executed. Someone’s like, “Oh, that would make an incredible plot for a novel” and they never write it. Or they start writing it and never finish or share it. (That’s totally me and my dream to write books. I have files of unfinished manuscripts just waiting for me to come back and finish what I set out to do.)
There are people who dream of performing on Broadway, and then there are the people who write Broadway musicals or build theater companies. These different types of people aren’t better than each other in any way, just different. We need these varieties of skills and inclinations to create complete projects with all the necessary facets and functional parts in the form of people with diverse skills and passions.
There are people who work in museums and there are people who launch museums, and somehow we find ourselves in the latter category. I mean, I’m a musician and an artist. I have a music degree as a string bass player, not a history degree, a business degree, or a museum-y degree of any kind. Who am I to be directing a museum? Writing a museum newsletter? How dare I!
I hope our museum grows into a giant force for good, attracting talent and a future director with a freakin’ doctorate in history and African American studies who we can pay a salary worthy of all they have to offer. In the mean time, me and my artsy fartsy background will have to do during this initial period of growth. I’m learning so much. I’m not a historian or a history teacher, but I am and always will be a student open to learning new things with a desire to address my own ignorance and lack of wisdom.
Utah Black History Museum launched on February 27, 2021 parked outside the Leonardo in Salt Lake City. We set up everything outside for the first time and then a BLIZZARD blew in. The nerve!!!! But it was awesome. There was a ribbon cutting of a big ol’ ribbon on the side of the bus. Press attended. Speeches and interviews happened. It was really awesome.
And before the event even started, just after we finished our very first setup (and we’ve come so far since then), I remember Lex crying and when I gave her a hug she said, “That was hard. That was really hard.”
It was and it still is. But the work is so important, the work to create social change and make a difference. To build relationships between differing groups of people. The world is a rough place to live with people fighting all the time and such a famine and starvation for peace and love.
And what is one of the greatest detriments to the healthy flourishing of peace and love?
I used to blog a lot in my early 20s, back when blogs were the thang to do. I was really bold, always extremely transparent with all my thoughts and opinions.
Over time though, I started retreating. When people don’t agree with you, when haters comment, when you feel judged, when the costs seem to outweigh the benefits of putting yourself out there, the easiest thing to do is withdraw.
And sometimes that’s the right choice if you need the space. Sometimes we need space to heal, rediscover ourselves, face our demons. Sometimes we genuinely have to retreat to protect ourselves and our loved ones, to stay safe.
What does this have to do with the museum?
It’s scary starting a museum. Especially when you’re broaching subjects that stir up people’s feelings — for better or for worse. Black history is not pretty. It’s really, really uncomfortable. People come see our exhibit and cry or feel overwhelmed or can’t even finish reading some of what we put out or all of the above. Others come and are so excited about what they see, embracing the need to share this history and provide enlightenment. Having light switches flipped on in your head as you learn, see, and understand perspectives and knowledge you couldn’t grasp before in your ignorance — that’s pretty invigorating, even when the truths challenge everything you thought you knew.
I knew when I got involved with this project that it was much bigger than me. The bus is such a convenient object to use metaphorically. Setting this museum in motion was something like putting the bus on the top of a hill, letting go of the air brakes, and not being able to stop the acceleration. The more we talk about the museum, the more we share the museum, the more the word spreads, then the more requests we get, and the demand keeps increasing. I wish we could be on the road every day, reaching everyone in the state with unparalleled efficiency.
In the present reality thought, our organization is really very small, and we are not able to meet the demand… yetI think our bus could be going out 5 times a week to schools and businesses. We need to fundraise, write grants, and get corporate sponsors so we can get ourselves into a brick and mortar space in addition to running the traveling exhibit and get the museum a staff. Our volunteers are incredible and so devoted, but because our nonprofit is an organization offering a service (our program of delivering and presenting our mobile exhibit), I think we will need to build up our board and a museum-knowledgeable, trained staff to catch up with the demand.
In the meantime, some of you might know that two of our four original board members moved out of state, Lex and Tarienne. They were the other two, in addition to myself, who knew how to set up our exhibit because we built and designed the exhibit together. We would divvy up the events, making sure that one of us were available to lead an event, give directions to volunteers, and orchestrate setup and breakdown of our pretty complicated display.
It’s tricky because every time we take the exhibit somewhere we are setting up in a new space and have to figure out how to best use that space. One of our greatest helpers is our regular and reliable driver, Beaux. He has an excellent sense of spatial awareness and a sensitivity for energy flow. I really enjoy setting up the exhibit with Beaux because I can just step back and let his visionary mind come up with a balanced, feng shui layout plan that we can then execute with our volunteers. We really get a kick out of nailing setup in new spaces.
The exhibit looks different every time. We collect more artifacts as time progresses, rotating some artifacts and mixing things up. I mean, the main reason it looks different every time is just the mind-bending challenge of organizing it all. All the stuff is not yet organized enough to have a place mapped out for each one of the hundreds of puzzle pieces involved from wagons to tents to display cases (all in odd, non-matching sizes) to banners to tables to books to dolls to the stacks of mixed-up posters to clips to wall/door stands… It’s a lot of stuff.
BUT we are getting better at it every time, getting into our groove and figuring out the time-saving hacks and a smoother order of operations. Practice might not make perfect, but it makes better.
I’m straying from what I set out to discuss though. I wanted to say that even starting this newsletter was and is scary for me. The haters are real. Racism is real. I think most of you signed up for this newsletter because you support our mission and our organization and are as excited as we are to share Black history with our fellow Utah community members, in a state where there are people who have never met a Black person. We have important relationships to build and connections to make.
But while we have our fans, then there are people like that one guy who commented, “When is the white history bus scheduled?” to which I’d like to reply that from my perspective, over 3,000 white history busses carry Utah students to and from white history museums (also known as schools) every single day.
I was reading the other day in the Black Chamber’s new book, Black Utah: Stories from a Thriving Community (available on Amazon), the interview with Rev. Dr. France Davis, Pastor Emeritus at the historic Calvary Baptist Church who has been a force for change since he came to Utah. When he moved here in 1972, there were only around 10,000 African Americans living in the state of Utah around that time. Utah historically, has not been welcoming, inclusive, or unprejudiced of Black people since the white pioneers settled here and established, amongst cities and churches and so forth, SCHOOLS.
Think of how many African Americans have migrated here since the 1970s. It’s actually not that many in the past 50 years since Pastor Davis moved here. Current Utah demographics show 1.19% of Utah’s 2022 estimated population of 3,363,182 people being African American, which is approximately 63,900 people. In the past 50 years, the Black population has increased by 6x.
Okay, statistics aside, what we can gather is that Utah’s Black population was and is very small for historic reasons that you can learn more about in our exhibit! Understanding Utah’s Black history of such a small African American population is SO important because of the historical factors that suppressed the growth and inclusion of the Black population in the first place!
Returning to Utah schools. I referred to them as white history museums because the school system was founded by Utah’s white community members. America’s school curriculums reflect the history and values of the majority populations. That’s understandable, sure.
Now, there is a movement to make school curriculums more well-rounded in their teachings to address some of the difficult topics and recognize Black historical figures who were amazing examples of Black excellence. There are many, many modern Utah teachers who value Black history and cultural diversity, incorporating them into their curriculums with real intent. These are the teachers who invite us to their schools, knowing that we have something special to offer in the way of educational history that is often overlooked.
And there are those who don’t invite us, who don’t allow us, who are quite scare of us.
I truly feel that our museum changes lives every time we show it. As challenging and demanding as the project is as a whole, as much as we sometimes fear the bus will be vandalized or set on fire (so far we’ve “only” had a broken window and a passing driver flip us off), it’s absolutely worth taking it out on the streets. Every time we present the exhibit and see students, children, and adults from all walks of life learning and expanding their minds and hearts as they absorb what we have to offer, we are assured that it’s worth the effort, time, and sacrifice we put into not only keeping our museum alive, but growing.
The haters are out there, but this is a fight worth fighting and a risk worth taking. We must keep moving forward — the bus is accelarating, picking up speed, and it will keep rushing on whether we’re ready for it or not… whether you like it or not.
Cause Black people were here, are here, and will be here whether you like it or not.
Keep your wheels rolling,