I just picked up my wristband and can’t wait to be on the National Mall for the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) this weekend. To be in the audience as President Obama opens this historic, beautiful and important addition to the Mall’s landscape of buildings feels like a gift – celebrating this living monument with the tens of thousands that will be in attendance for the weekend-long events makes it even better.

 National Museum of African American History and Culture

National Museum of African American History and Culture (Photo: Robb Skinner)

With the opening, the NMAAHC stands as a soaring symbol of resiliency, optimism and spirituality that transcends borders. The African-American story is one that is relevant to all peoples, everywhere. From the struggles to overcome the horrific bonds of slavery, through the fight for equality in the civil rights movement, to the ongoing efforts to end discrimination – the Museum’s exhibits, its countless cultural treasures, and its stories of perseverance, all serve as inspiration to so many in this country and across the globe.

Perhaps there is no greater testament to the power of the African-American story and culture than the impact it has had around the world. In my career, I have had the tremendous fortune to travel extensively. On every continent, in so many far away cities and towns, I have seen Martin Luther King, Jr. streets and monuments, and each time felt great pride at being American. The Civil Rights Movement continues to serve as a shining example for so many global citizens engaged in their own struggles for equality.

Duke Ellington chatting with (l. to r.) Secretary-General U Thant; Edvard Hambro (Norway), President of the General Assembly; and Ralph J. Bunche, Under-Secretary-General for Special Political Affairs.

Duke Ellington chatting with (l. to r.) Secretary-General U Thant; Edvard Hambro (Norway), President of the General Assembly; and Ralph J. Bunche, Under-Secretary-General for Special Political Affairs.

Theatre, the arts, and music – from gospel to jazz, blues, rock and rap – all tell important stories and serve as shared cultural touchstones. There is not a city anywhere in which you won’t hear and see this in theatres, nightclubs, and streets. The extraordinary contributions made by African-Americans in the fields of medicine, science and academia, to name just a few, so often under-recognized, now have a place of pride in NMAAHC. As a former U.S. diplomat and current UN staff member, I owe a special debt of gratitude to the great African-American statesman, UN peacemaker and Nobel Prize winner Ralph Bunche, who was instrumental in the creation of the United Nations.

The U.S. constitution starts with “We the People.” The Charter of the United Nations adds a letter and begins “We the peoples.” The NMAAHC helps us all take a step forward toward the fulfilment of the promise of those words, and the words that follow in those two historic documents. It was a long time coming, and this weekend, all the world celebrates with the United States the opening of this amazing Museum – on our National Mall, but with a message that lives in the spirit of people everywhere.

 

Robb Skinner

Director, UNIC Washington