Juneteenth Speaker Series: Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture

As part of the Juneteenth Speaker Series, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture virtually visited Gilman on Friday, January 21. The museum, located at Baltimore’s inner harbor, interprets, preserves, and tells the stories of Black Americans in Maryland.

Director of interpretation, collections, and education Izetta Autumn Mobley, Ph.D. began her presentation to Middle School students by acknowledging that the land we occupy today belonged to indigenous people and was made possible by the labor of enslaved people of African descent.

Mobley shared that museums are “one of the most trusted institutions in the United States,” signifying the responsibility museums hold to present information accurately to their visitors.

She shared a few powerful images — like a photograph from the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. An image of a Norman Rockwell painting called “Soda Jerk” depicting happy, white teenagers at a diner in 1953 alongside a photo of protesters being harassed while they worked to integrate the Woolworth counter in Mississippi in 1963 demonstrated how history can be portrayed differently depending on who is telling the story.

She shared two other Norman Rockwell paintings — one showing white students sitting peacefully in a classroom juxtaposed by the next one showing Ruby Bridges being escorted by federal marshals to the white school where she was integrating. Mobley said, “History may look different to us depending on our own personal experiences, our own personal understanding of history.”

She repeatedly raised a series of important questions: Who gets to tell history? Who does history belong to? Who gets left out of history? “So much of my passion for history and museums is because I believe it’s a form of justice,” she said. “Telling the truth about history, telling nuanced history, and complicated history is a way to do justice.”

Later on Friday, for the Upper School assembly, Mobley returned and was joined by chairman of the board of the museum Drew Hawkins, founder and president of Edyoucore. Mobley and Hawkins spoke in an open conversation about his role as a Black man and leader in the financial industry and about how he got involved with African American history and the museum.

“Leadership is an interesting thing,” Hawkins said. “A lot of people profess to be leaders. But it’s more than just having a title. That’s the least important component.” He emphasized that being a leader means having a really good understanding of what your organization is trying to accomplish and being able to deal with challenges along the way. He said that leaders need to get in the trenches with the people who work with them to show that “we are all in this together.” Addressing the students directly, he said, “Your leadership starts now. You don't have to wait to do it.” He encouraged them to find opportunities to take on leadership roles through sports, clubs, activities, or community service.

Mobley and Hawkins presented to parents and other community members on Saturday via Zoom.

Learn more about the museum at lewismuseum.org and about one of its most powerful exhibits, according to Mobley, at menofchange.si.edu.