Seattle African American museum reopens Monday, first time since pandemic, to honor MLK

Seattle African American museum reopens Monday, first time since pandemic, to honor MLK

After nearly three years, Seattle’s Museum of American Northwest Africa will reopen to the public Monday, with a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The physical space was closed in 2020 for the pandemic and renovations.

KUOW’s Kim Malcolm spoke with NAAM President and CEO LaNesha DeBardelaben about what it means to welcome visitors and community members back in person.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

LaNesha DeBardelaben: The fact that we have this opportunity to return to the space, downtown, at the corner of 23rd and Massachusetts in Seattle’s Central District is cause for extreme celebration.

We have been a very resilient organization and we will celebrate that resilience, that persistence in fulfilling our mission. And we will celebrate it on Dr. King’s Day. It is one of the most important black cultural holidays of the year. King’s Day reminds us all to remain committed to building that most loving community that his life so beautifully exemplifies.

Kim Malcolm: For people who have been before, what’s different now?

We have been able to refresh and renew several key points in the museum. We have a new community living room where African American art, literature and music will be centered for people to just come, relax and be together. We also have beautiful new exhibitions.

We have created a ‘Corridor of Healing and Hope’, which aligns with our new focus. We strive to use black heritage to cultivate healing and hope. So we’ve set aside an entry space to tell the story of what healing and hope can look like in our community.

I understand that there is a new emphasis on visual art by local artists of color. Tell us about it.

NAAM is pleased to partner with several key black artist collectives, such as the Onyx Fine Arts Collective. There will be five African American artists from that collective on display in our community living room. We have also curated a beautiful new show called ‘Colours of Life’, featuring four abstract artists of African descent.

They will be on display here on King’s Day and through June. We also have an exhibit called “A Long Walk to Hope,” commemorating the 40th annual King’s Day march here in Seattle. We display that story through photographs. And finally, we’ll be featuring the artwork of Jacob Lawrence.

Tell us about the celebration you have planned for King’s Day.

We will have food trucks and children’s activities throughout the day, as well as film screenings from 11 to 5. We will have a keynote at 1 pm featuring a conversation with nationally known actor and activist Jesse Williams , who produced a documentary called ‘Stay Wake.’ He will join us via an interactive video to have a conversation with our community about activism. We have a variety of local talent, spoken word artists, a DJ, a local hip-hop historian and our museum choir will be singing. An after party starts at 5pm and will celebrate this grand reopening in grand fashion.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.

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