July 30, 2008

When It Rains

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Many of us are familiar with the old sayings, “When it rains, it pours” and “When the world catches a cold, black folks get pneumonia.” And sick is exactly what many residents are feeling today. Sick about the cancellation of African World Festival.  Doubled over in pain about the high incidence of crime and just when we think “what next,” we get bad news regarding America’s Black Holocaust Museum.

Like most of you, I was stunned to learn of the museum’s decision to temporarily close their doors to the public.  A long shot from the beginning, the museum’s founder, James Cameron, spent his life overcoming odds and fighting for endurance.  After Cameron survived a near-lynching in 1930, he founded America’s Black Holocaust Museum as a place where the struggles and history of African-Americans could be told, honored, and remembered.

Due to the nature of the exhibits, the museum could be a difficult visit for many.  The content, displays, and sounds offered as you walked through the winding corridors of the building created knots in viewer’s stomachs and left many feeling uncomfortable and even ill.  It reminded me of the scores of African-Americans who have said that they could never again watch “Roots,” the landmark film depicting slavery’s origins.  I understand.

But I also know that, in order not to repeat the mistakes of our past, we must never forget that history.  We must educate ourselves, our children, and others about the impact of that history on our lives, experiences, and our present-day realities.  In doing so, we can move past some of the ill feelings and embrace the resiliency and strength demonstrated by our ancestors. In supporting the work of people like Cameron, who passed in 2006 and has left his charge squarely in our hands, we grow stronger and wiser as a people.  In the 22-year history of the museum, which is located in the heart of Milwaukee’s Black community, it has not been a secret that keeping the doors open was often a fight.  Winning national recognition and housing unrivaled events hasn’t been enough.

And has a community we are forced, once again, to answer some tough questions.  Because, truth told, it wasn’t just African World Festival and America’s Black Holocaust Museum that were ailing.  A number of jewels in this community are on life support and the plug could be pulled on them any day now.  Whether it be Ko Thi Dance Company, Hansberry Sands Theater Company, or the African-American Children’s Theatre, we have created unhealthy environments in which we are asking these groups to survive.

Just like any other tragedy, we must stand up straight, acknowledge our role, and work together to create a different paradigm.  Even when we are sick, staying home from work is usually not an option.  Work, on behalf of these organizations, is required.  Only through that work will we be prepared, as a community, the next time it rains.