When you live in Washington D.C. you let your visiting friends decide where to go.
There’s just so much.
And somehow, they seem to know more about your town than you do. But yesterday when my friend “John,” –whom I know from several river trips out west—came to town and asked if I’d like to go to the AA museum, I was not instantly on board. Alcoholics Anonymous did not sound like a good time; I have issues with the religious element of the programs. But if someone wants to go to a museum about alcoholism, I’m game.
I was THRILLED to learn he meant the African American museum; I’ve been waiting for years for the line to get short enough. Currently it stretches to October.
But, John messaged me late at night, if I get up early enough (6:30 a.m.) I might score some “day of” tickets. I didn’t get the message until 8 a.m., which was too late. My friend, better informed than me always, suggested we try for the hourly standby ticks.
Did we feel we were entering a slave ship? No. We were entering an emotional time warp.
The only thing missing was the Kleenex. Seriously, they should just hand out packets of it at the door.
I’m not sure what made me want to weep more, the faces in the exhibits or the faces looking at the exhibits. Yes, the faces reflected in the glass tell the stories. Because as a Caucasian, I was outnumbered and I did not see any of my relatives in those images.
And what were those images?
People in 2015 linking arms to protect their neighborhoods in Maryland after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody; The Little Rock Nine—a few high school girls in cotton dresses, their backs to the camera, facing an all-white mob of high school students looking down at them from the front of their new school; a little girl, alone, innocent, darling … who apparently needed the protection of three large white men on her first day of school.
Then came the James Baldwin video. He is challenged by a young African American man—looked like a high school kid—who states that no black man will ever be president of this country. Baldwin calmly, confidently explains that yes, there will be a black president here, but that this will be a different country then. He then goes on to tell the group of kids there is no job they cannot do. Clearly, they would bear the responsibility to make that country they knew into the country that would elect a black president.
Mind boggling. They did it.
The sheer vision of these leaders, if not the courage, conviction, dedication, hope … all of which arose from those slave ships.
No wonder the benches out front were all filled.
I too found that I just had to sit down a minute and digest it all.
And when I did I found myself staring at postcards filled out by other visitors. Blank cards were available at the end of the table where museum-goers were writing on them and dropping them in a slot. A few had been placed under glass at the table where I had chosen to sit.
As I tried to sleep last night, I wondered at the power of the people, the power to progress as far as we have. And I realized, the African American museum and an Alcoholics Anonymous museum might be pretty similar. Instead of “Hello, my name is ______ and I am an alcoholic,” I heard the voices in the photographs saying “Hello, my name is America and I have a racism problem.”
It’s a first step.