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Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum: Examining a History of Activism

Recently one of the leading voices of the Civil Rights Movement, Congressman John Lewis passed away. Without a doubt, Lewis encapsulated what it meant to be a citizen activist. From his earliest days with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to public service as a long-standing U.S. Congressman, his legacy will always be his pursuit of social justice and being an agent of change—as well as empowering others, especially young people, to embrace civic activism for causes they believe in.

Spoken word artist Joseph Green is doing a virtual reading at the Anacostia Community Museum on August 20, at 2:30pm. Image courtesy of Joseph Green. Pre-register on the Anacostia Community Museum website, www.anacostia.si.edu/Events
Spoken word artist Joseph Green is doing a virtual reading at the Anacostia Community Museum on August 20, at 2:30pm. Image courtesy of Joseph Green. Pre-register on the Anacostia Community Museum website, www.anacostia.si.edu/Events

At the Anacostia Community Museum, encouraging civic activism and empowering others to become civically engaged is at the heart of its public programming. Using exhibitions, like the now online version of “A Right to The City”, the museum serves as a platform to convene, discuss, reflect, and engage the diverse audiences it serves. While the Anacostia Community Museum is not strictly a “history” museum, history does provide a context from which educational engagements with the public occur. The great British statesman and historian Sir Winston Churchill is reported to have said, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it,” an empowering maxim that reflects much of the thinking of the museum’s education department when developing programs. For example, earlier this year, the education department collaborated on a workshop with the local non-profit, The Sanctuaries who use art to shift cultural thinking through community organizing and social movements. The program participants, who were mostly teens. learned about the importance of Washington, DC as a locus of national protest then made protest posters on community issues important to them using the lithographic process.

Recently the museum, like most cultural organizations has had to convert its programming to a digital format. This, however, doesn’t dilute its basic programming philosophy. It still develops opportunities to convene and engage audiences. Examples include its new #TakeTimeThursday series. These 30-minute webinars focus on health, art, and wellness and have featured topics ranging from aromatherapy, forest bathing, and sound art. An upcoming TakeTimeThursday program on August 20 demonstrates activism through the spoken word as poet, Joseph Green recites current works related to the current Covid-19 health crisis and the BLM movements happening globally.

Kalfani Turé hosts the live webinar, “Before Black Lives Matter: Activism and the Institute on Race Relations” August 28 at 4pm.  Image courtesy of Kalfani Turé. Pre-register on the Anacostia Community Museum website, www.anacostia.si.edu/Events
Kalfani Turé hosts the live webinar, “Before Black Lives Matter: Activism and the Institute on Race Relations” August 28 at 4pm.  Image courtesy of Kalfani Turé. Pre-register on the Anacostia Community Museum website, www.anacostia.si.edu/Events

Most recently, another webinar series, called Inspiration/Action looks at socio-economic and cultural issues designed to inform and promote social activism by empowering participants with digital resources. Again, the common thread of engagement is the dialogue exchange between participants and speakers. Still other programs at the museum use themes like the history of activism and “Black Lives Matter” as a platform to educate and inspire. The upcoming program, “Before ‘Black Lives Matter’: Activism and The Institute on Race Relations” on August 28 uses historical precedent as a basis to examine how residents of the District of Columbia crossed racial and class lines to unite against racist practices–highlighting the substantive, but understudied history of collaborative anti-racist activism in the nation’s capital. These are just a few examples of how the museum explores personal and group activism, not only through its exhibitions but also through its programs. Information about these and other programs at the Anacostia Community Museum and registration guidance can be found on the website at http://anacostia.si.edu/Events or by calling 202.633.4867. Website visitors can also sign up for program e-alerts.

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