Toni Morrison made me stop wanting to be white Slavery took our bodies. Cultural hegemony tries to take our minds — and destroy our hair. Morrison gave it all back to us.

“Can’t nobody fly with all that shit.

You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

I’m here to give thanks. Toni Morrison freed me. She freed me from the burden of wanting to be white. She taught how to put down blue eyes and use my brown ones.

I had promised myself that now that the day had come and Morrison has passed, I would not be afraid. But it is a promise I cannot keep.

Even now, I feel the keyboard rise unevenly against my fingers and my heart feels like a possum trapped in a box. What will people think? They’ll judge me. They’ll pity me. My race card will be snatched. I’ll get canceled. The whole world knows her résumé: Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Princeton professor, speaker of truth. No adjective is too big, and no verb can contain the glory of her oeuvre, the ripple of her effect.

I would no more appreciate Toni Morrison than Harriet Tubman could eulogize the North Star. She, as she says in Song of Solomon, is a woman who could fly. With her words, I can see the mountaintop. She taught me real freedom, freedom of the mind.

Slavery took our bodies. Cultural hegemony tries to take our minds — and destroy our hair. Morrison gave it all back to us — if we have the strength to take it. What did she say in Beloved? They do not love your body. So you have to love it and love it hard.

This is not about being seen — a watered-down approximation of affirmation if ever there was one. We are seen every day and seen wanting, thanks to the economic demands of a scientifically ignorant people who built a sweet land of “liberty” on the backs of other, darker humans. It’s not right to own people. But it seems almost worse to convince yourself and those you enslaved and their descendants that it has something to do with their own inferiority. That’s twisted. Morrison put it back straight.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison photographed in New York City in 1979.

Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

It can be hard to remember to be free — to remember whose best thing I am.

My world sometimes looks like a series of planks I hammer together in front of me, stepping on the last to hammer the next. But it’s mine, free and clear. There can be long breaks between finishing one board and picking up the next, but Morrison understood that. Her books are full of magic, but there are no magical Negroes.

Examining her loss, I feel as if Morrison has always been with me. The Black Book haunted me with nightmares of what they would do to my brown body if they caught me, Song of Solomon strengthened my mind when I thought being brown was wrong, Beloved soothed my soul when being a brown girl felt worthless and then again when it felt like too much.

Her stories are mine, although the names and details were changed. Here is the spot under my chin where I burned my neck trying to look like Laura Ingalls. This is the elderly Italian woman who works at my local grocery — always eager to tell the white woman ahead of me how to braise her beef but anxious and silent when bagging my groceries. Here’s how I wear Hall & Oates T-shirts in order to short-circuit racial profiling.

Lately, I’d been dwelling on omens. Sullen, murderous days slinking one into another, casting shadows of old terrors. Nine in Charleston, 11 in Pittsburgh, 22 in El Paso, so many more in ones and twos. Earthquakes in pairs. Countless aftershocks.

But Morrison taught me to pity those empty bags of death who think automatic rifles can stop us. She showed me that first at Pilate’s stove and then in the clearing behind Sethe’s house.

My wings hold the shape of her words, and so they cannot fail. I know now that as the shadows gather shape in the wagon to take me back to Sweet Home that I will hold my chin high, pick up the hammer, laugh and say,

“Me? Me?”

In theater, the white gaze takes center stage Three plays — ‘Fairview,’ ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and ‘Toni Stone’ — highlight how black theater-makers approach audiences who do not look like them

Right before the end of Act I of Toni Stone, a new play about the first woman to play in baseball’s Negro Leagues, its company engages in an extended shuck-and-jive routine.

The nine actors, all wearing the uniform of the Indianapolis Clowns, sport wide, ersatz grins as they leap across the stage, each performing some grotesque trick. One juggles, another high-kicks. The team of court jesters does its best to amuse an imaginary crowd of white baseball spectators, most of whom showed up to see the team’s feigned merrymaking and Bojangling in the outfield.

There was some laughter from the mostly white and mostly older audience at the performance I attended at Roundabout Theatre Company. It simmered into nervous titters as it became clear that the routine the Clowns were performing was demeaning, soul-deadening work. An uncomfortable silence fell over the audience. The stadium lights of the set flashed bright for an instant, then went black.

The show actively talks to an audience it correctly assumes will be majority white, and so it is written in a way to explain elements of black culture that may seem foreign.

Joan Marcus

Stone, played by April Matthis, delivered the last word: “Our people always did have a way of turning what matters into something beautiful that touches the soul. We call that laughter and they call that clowning. But you know they know. They know it’s powerful so’s they come back for more of it. But they also know they can’t do it … never mind catch a pop an’ flip back an’ throw it in for the double play. White people think if it’s fun an’ have a certain elegance, it ain’t serious. But they know. Everyone knows they can’t turn what’s practical into something more, the Charleston Slide, the Mississippi slow grind, or the art of making a skill pretty. So they laugh and give us a little bit of money so they keep laughing, but they know it’s powerful and they know that we know what they doin’ to us while we still steady makin’ em laugh.”

When the play resumed after intermission, one of the Clowns, known as King Tut (Phillip James Brannon), broke the fourth wall to address the audience. King Tut tried to smooth over any tension from the show’s unexpected turn toward the team’s resentment of racist fans by addressing it head-on. “Oh, good,” he said. “Thoughta mighta scared you at the bottom of the first.”

In another instance, Stone turns to reassure the audience before lighting into another teammate, Jimmy, while they are all on the bus together. Here’s how it appears in the script:

TONI

No … I just called him over here to ask him ’bout his mama.

(to audience) I don’t know Jimmy’s mama. We about to play the dozens. (beat) It’s just a game.

The play is a biographical sketch of Stone, focusing mostly on the ways that she’s an outsider within a group of outsiders. Her male teammates in the Negro Leagues, shut out from the opportunity in the majors, have conversations about what makes a black man like Jackie Robinson suitable to break baseball’s color barrier. Meanwhile, Stone is constantly wrestling with the way her gender impacts how she’s received as a ballplayer, along with expectations about her behavior, hair and style of dress and the roles she and her husband (also the Clowns’ manager) occupy once they’re married.

Stone often faces the audience to explain who she is, what she wants and what she loves to set up scenes from her life. There’s a recurring joke to break up these bits: Stone faces the audience and deadpans, “I’m a little girl” during flashbacks when she is, in fact, a little girl.

But what I kept noticing was how much playwright Lydia R. Diamond had fashioned her play with the white gaze in mind. The show actively talks to an audience it correctly assumes will be majority white, and so it is written in a way to explain elements of black culture that may seem foreign.

Once I realized this was a pattern and not just a one-off, the tic became increasingly grating for a couple of reasons:

1) This sort of narrative hand-holding coddles and enables cultural ignorance on the part of the audience.

2) It tells black audience members that even though they’re watching a show that’s about black people, played entirely by black actors and written by a black playwright, the show isn’t interested in acknowledging its black audience or the knowledge of ourselves that we bring to our own stories.


Considerations about the overrepresentation of whiteness in theater audiences are almost unavoidable because it’s built into the experience of consuming theater in a way that, say, it’s not with television. You can see strangers watching alongside you and their reactions.

So, should playwrights and directors acknowledge this in the work? And if so, how? Three plays running in New York this summer — Toni Stone, Much Ado About Nothing and Fairview — help us focus on those questions.

Toni Stone often faces the audience to explain who she is, what she wants and what she loves to set up scenes from her life.

Toni Stone accommodates its white audience unfamiliar with black traditions. Public Theater’s all-black production of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Kenny Leon, was utterly unconcerned with explaining Leon’s vision for Beatrice and Benedick. Either you understood the references or you didn’t. Then there’s Fairview, the play that netted Jackie Sibblies Drury the Pulitzer Prize by not just acknowledging the white gaze but also actively challenging it.

I became exasperated with the racial exposition of Toni Stone, but that’s not to say clever ways of acknowledging the whiteness of theater audiences don’t exist. Take, for instance, Jordan E. Cooper’s Ain’t No Mo’, which closed this spring after a run at The Public.

Ain’t No Mo’ starts with a very black funeral taking place in a very black church. It’s Nov. 4, 2008, and within the casket sitting onstage rests not a person but a thing: black people’s right to complain. Or, as the pastor refers to it, “Brother Righttocomplain.”

At one point during an extremely spirited eulogy, Pastor Freeman (Marchánt Davis) begins to lead his congregation in a rather unconventional church shout:

I guess y’all done went to sleep on Pastor Freeman, I-I-I-I-I must be preaching to mySELF this evening cause I ain’t heard a SHOUT yet. I said there ain’t no more tears to be shed because the President is WHAT? Ain’t no more marching in the streets to be heard, because the President is WHAT? Come on and say it, somebody, I can see the spirit doing the Cupid Shuffle in yo chest right now, waiting to rise up and reveal itself as yo true voice. … I want every colored person in this room to turn to yo neighbor and say neighbor … the President is my n—- …… Louder … SAY THE PRESIDENT IS MY N—-.

Pastor Freeman would improvise as he bounced from aisle to aisle, among the theater audience turned congregants. “THE PRESIDENT IS MY N—-,” the good pastor would holler, raising his arms and making eye contact with the black folks in the audience, encouraging them to join in the shouting. Then a white face would appear in his line of sight. “Not you!”

I practically bellowed with laughter.

Considerations about the overrepresentation of whiteness in theater audiences are almost unavoidable because it’s built into the experience of consuming theater in a way that, say, it’s not with television. You can see strangers watching alongside you and their reactions.

Admittedly, my gauge for this sort of thing is heavily influenced by my job, my upbringing and my education. I grew up with a black parent and graduated from a historically black university. I write about culture and race for a site that is mostly trafficked by white readers, but they are not the primary audience I’m addressing. There’s a reason for that distinction. Part of it is simply that not everything is about white people. Even the stuff they can see! But the other part is that getting trapped in a perpetual introductory class of Race Theory 101 becomes rather dull rather quickly. Having to repeatedly pause to explain basic concepts about black culture or about racism eats up time and energy I’d prefer to expend elsewhere. The white gaze doesn’t just assume whiteness is the default. It reorients everything to force that fallacy to be true. It’s indicative of a power imbalance that even in art about black folks, accommodating white ignorance is expected. The fact that Hamilton largely refused to do this was one of the things that made it such a revelation.

These pauses that exist solely to enlighten white people who lead racially blinkered lives have been named “explanatory commas” by Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji, the hosts of NPR’s Code Switch podcast. One of the problems with Toni Stone is that its explanatory commas feel retrograde. Frankly, after a season that included work such as BLKS, Ain’t No Mo’, Choir Boy and Leon’s Much Ado About Nothing, all of which are steeped in black culture and not particularly interested in justifying or explaining it, I began to take for granted that black artists could make theater about themselves without having to include a pause for white people to catch up.

Leon’s Much Ado, produced for the Free Shakespeare in the Park series, is hammy and energetic and encourages audience interaction and scene-stealing. It’s a rendering of Shakespeare that pays homage to traveling black stage plays.

Everything about its design, from the giant “STACEY ABRAMS 2020” banners that flank the set to the Morehouse maroon of the actors’ costumes to Camille A. Brown’s choreography, screams bougie black contemporary Atlanta. Yet Shakespeare’s text remained the same. There were no signposts in the dialogue to direct you to the inspirations for Leon’s aesthetic decisions. They simply existed.

The thing I appreciated about the lack of explanatory commas was how it rearranged the power dynamic between artist and patron to something more equitable. What Leon did with Much Ado is move the baseline for cultural literacy in the theater audience. There were things about black life that you’re expected to know because it’s unthinkable that you wouldn’t. And he did it by pairing it with the words of the most universally known and respected playwright in human history: Shakespeare.

Fairview takes a different approach, running head-on at the white gaze, even during its unconventional curtain call. The play challenges the white gaze by making it a part of the show in a way that highlights how such narcissism spills into the consumption of black art.

Fairview starts out as a conventional-seeming work about a black family celebrating its matriarch’s birthday. But lighting and sound changes in the second act reveal to the seated audience that it’s actually witnessing white people watch a play about black people. The second act is a repeat of the first, except the actors are muted while a soundtrack of unseen white people comments about what’s happening in the plot and their own attitudes about race. Finally, the white people physically inject themselves into the story as if they bought tickets to some sort of blackness immersion theme park ride.

Fairview leaves audiences unable to deny the influence of the white gaze and pushes them to question their own complicity in perpetuating it. Toni Stone seems to have succumbed to it. And Leon’s Much Ado ignores it. Here’s to more art that offers up blackness without apology or explanation, expands definitions of cultural literacy and challenges audiences of all stripes to do the reading.

MGM National Harbor has proved to be all for the community and more than a resort in one year With job creation, community engagement, minority partnerships and philanthropy, the destination has proved to be more than a resort

When the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area learned of MGM National Harbor’s influx into the community, there was both excitement and apprehension. Now, one year and 6 million patrons later, the goals set by Prince George’s County, the establishment’s home location, have been met. Job creation, community engagement, minority partnerships and philanthropy are on the rise.

Nightclubs, restaurants, shops, meeting rooms and a 24-story hotel and casino make up the resort. Marcus Wigfall, just 30 years old, was working in the accounting field. He loves playing poker, and as he watched the construction phase of the building, he grew more and more excited to hit the casino. But, as the Dec. 8, 2016, opening date grew near, he’d decided on a different plan. In search of a part-time job, he applied for a busser position at the location’s TAP Sports Bar and landed the gig. Two months after it opened, he was promoted to a full-time position with benefits.

“I would say maybe in a full month’s time I had moved up to a server. Around March, the food and beverage director came and talked to me,” Wigfall said.

The director informed Wigfall of an assistant manager position. He applied and was promoted again.

“I’m sitting as assistant manager. I’m actually working on becoming a general manager, and that’s looking very bright in my future right now,” Wigfall said. “I really appreciate everybody at MGM. I remember the first day when we got there, it was like a big parade for all the employees. I never had that before. Never had that experience, all the bigwigs or the higher people high-fiving me. Why are they high-fiving me? I haven’t even done anything, but that was motivation. That was something I had never seen before, a different feeling. I was enthused to come to work every day, and I still am.”

Wigfall graduated from Saint Augustine’s College in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he earned a degree in sociology and moved from Charleston, South Carolina, to the Washington, D.C., area in 2010.

“MGM has been one of the biggest opportunities that I have ever experienced. I’m here, and it’s still mind-blowing to me. I talk to my daughter, and every time my kids ride past MGM, they’d be like, ‘Dad, you work in that big building over there?’ I take pride in it. It’s a good feeling just having your kids watch you, and your wife, and your parents, and everybody looking at you like, ‘You did it. You really did it.’ And I’m not done.”

When MGM decided to build in Prince George’s County, resort executives along with the local government signed a community benefits agreement (CBA) that consisted of specific requirements and expectations from the county to achieve over time.

“We’re really proud that we have met or exceeded every single goal that was set forth in the CBA of things like employment,” said Prince George’s County native and junior vice president of government affairs Kerry R. Watson. “Prince George’s County is a majority minority county. Lot of black and brown people live here, and the CBA sets a goal of 40 percent employment by Prince George’s residents, and we’re extremely excited that we actually are at around 47 percent. We were not asked to reach close to 50 percent until after five years, and we are moving quickly toward that direction.

“To be able to provide opportunities like Wigfall’s to Prince Georgians who just took a chance with this company and have achieved so much, to me is some of our best stories,” Watson said.

The company employs 3,700 resort staffers, with 47 percent of the workforce from Prince George’s County.

In one year, MGM is the highest-grossing casino in Maryland, with revenue of $600 million. It has consistently been the largest contributor to Maryland’s Education Trust Fund, adding more than $170 million. MGM has contributed more than $17 million to local impact grants in 2017 alone and has provided more than $1 million in philanthropic contributions to institutions including Prince George’s County Community College, Bowie State University, the University of Maryland, College Park, and the Community Foundation of Prince George’s County. MGM invested approximately $6 million in improvements to the former Thomas Addison Elementary School in Prince George’s County, where it will be available for community use beginning in 2018.

MGM is strongly committed to supporting women-owned and minority-owned business enterprises (MBEs) in Maryland. They have dished out more than $367.9 million to MBE-certified companies, awarded contracts to 170 MBEs during construction and paid more than $158 million to Prince George’s County Minority Business Enterprises.

“To actually work for a company that sincerely takes these efforts to heart, it’s been a big thing,” Watson said.

Employees are committed to giving back to the community. In September, the resort opened its doors to the nonprofit organization in which they are involved to meet and greet the staff.

“[We wanted them] to talk to the employees directly about what their organization does for the community,” said Danielle White, regional vice president of community engagement. “Without us telling employees, ‘Here are great organizations that you can volunteer at,’ the organizations came here and were able to connect directly with the employees themselves. Some of them signed up to volunteer with them, some of them wanted more information, because one of the other ways that we have to do is through the MGM Foundation.”

More than 5,088 volunteer hours have been put in by 526 employees.

“This is before, we had not even firmly launched our volunteer program. We launched our volunteer program probably in September, so most of those hours were just our employees taking initiative and getting out and doing street team volunteer activities. Those are pretty large numbers so far, and I think it’ll be much higher next year,” White said.

Daily Dose: 12/7/17 Finally, justice in the killing of an unarmed black person

What’s up, kiddos. We’re just a couple of weeks from the big day if you celebrate Christmas, which means that you’re getting down to the wire if gifts are of importance to you. Check out this site for the baseball fan in your life.

Michael Slager is going to prison, which in itself is news. The former North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black motorist back in 2015 will serve 20 years in prison, which is incredible. Why? Because typically when this happens, the officer goes free, if charges are even brought. In some cases, the officer doesn’t even get fired and in the worst case, the officer even gets the matter scrubbed from his or her record. But, Slager was convicted and a video of the matter from a bystander definitely played a huge part. Justice.

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken has resigned. The comedian-turned-politician who’s been accused of sexual misconduct by various women stood before Congress today and offered a speech that didn’t feel particularly apologetic. He basically said that every woman who came forward was lying and the only reason he was stepping down is because his reputation has been ruined and thus he could no longer be an effective lawmaker. Dudes gonna dude, I guess. He definitely made sure to mention President Donald Trump and Senate hopeful Roy Moore on the way out, though.

Every year, Sports Illustrated puts out a swimsuit issue. Its existence has been the source of much controversy over the years, mainly over the concept of its existence at all. But it’s also been the launching pad for quite a few models who have gone on to superstardom. Tyra Banks is one who comes to mind. But in general, we don’t always see a whole ton of women of color in those spaces. So, on a recent trip overseas, one sorority decided to do something about that. Presenting: Melanin Illustrated.

I’m not sure what LaVar Ball is doing anymore. When it came to his son Lonzo, he did his best to make him as well-known as possible, a situation that led to him being drafted No. 2 overall by the Los Angeles Lakers. But with younger sons LiAngelo and LaMelo, things have gone awry, to be very honest. Gelo got caught stealing overseas. Melo stopped going to high school. Now, he’s signed them both to an agent, with the purpose of getting them to play on the same team. I’m not sure I understand why he’s so obsessed with this notion.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Ummm … apparently the United States is borderline considering not playing in the next Winter Games, for reasons that are loosely valid, politically. It feels extra weird that the White House would imply that we won’t play, considering what just happened to Russia, but hopefully this doesn’t come to fruition.

Snack Time: This NBA 2K eSports League is going to be awesome. Especially now that teams are unveiling their own facilities to field squads. The Sacramento Kings are the latest to join the bunch.

Dessert: Roland Martin’s TV One morning show was canceled. Definite bummer.

Artist Carrie Mae Weems talks ‘Grace Notes,’ patriarchy and punching Nazis Spoiler alert: She’s cool with it

It’s possible to carry an enormous amount of grace and still endorse punching Nazis. So says artist and photographer Carrie Mae Weems, who is performing her newest production, Grace Notes: Reflections for Now, tonight at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Weems began working on Grace Notes after a white supremacist opened fire at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, killing nine people. The “grace” refers to President Obama singing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed in the attack.

I spoke with Weems on Thursday before she headed to the Kennedy Center for a rehearsal of the performance, which uses music, text, spoken word and video to explore the implications of race and violence in America. When I arrived at her narrow rented row house, Weems was on the phone with her assistant trying to solve a last-minute production dilemma. She offered up orange juice, and then we sat at a small bar-height table. Perhaps fittingly, a single blue pendant lamp hung over it, just in case the 2013 MacArthur Award winner was in the mood to revisit her acclaimed Kitchen Table series. Weems offered her thoughts on the 44th and 45th presidents, as well as the pervasiveness of sexual harassment.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What made you want to build a show inspired by President Obama singing “Amazing Grace” and the idea of holding on to grace in the face of racist violence?

I’ve been thinking a lot about him, thinking a great deal about his presidency, the meaning of his presidency, the way that he’s been treated as the first black president. Of the ways in which I thought he was a lot of ways maligned and misrepresented and attacked and targeted in the most vicious way.

The terror that accompanied his presidency was really enormous. … I thought that it would be really wonderful to thank him for his service to the nation, to thank him for his extraordinary accomplishment and his courage and his conviction. And his humility in the face of it all. And then, of course, he sang ‘Amazing Grace,’ which was like a shot heard around the world. For a week, two weeks, no matter where you went, no matter what radio station you turned on, whether it was in Berlin or Russia or South America, the United States, everybody had focused on this idea that he had sang this song, and beautifully, and what it called up in them was not unlike what it called up in me.

So in a dream — because I think most of my ideas come when I’m very, very relaxed or in that sort of in-between moment between being awake and asleep, in sort of a twilight zone. … So I was explaining in my dream to a group of students how they might approach making a work about our times and about Obama. It was just sort of laid out in my dream, and I woke up and I rolled over to my computer and I wrote about 30 artists, and I asked them if they would be willing to contribute to a gift box that I wanted to make for the president. They would be musical compositions by great composers and pieces of art and photographs and poetry and essays, and all of it. And I would package it all in a sort of beautiful way and offer it to the presidential library as a gift, as a reflection of what artists were doing during his time and our thanks to him as the first African-American president of the United States.

A number of black artists have blossomed since 2008 because the Obama family’s presence in White House was so inspiring. How has our current climate informed the way you think about things?

It’s sort of like the ‘changing same,’ as Amiri Baraka would say. We’ve always been pressed. The Obamas had to deal with it while they were in the White House running the country. They had to deal with the backlash of white America, conservative America, against their presence. And we’ve had to deal and negotiate that backlash and those feelings of anxiety since. Many of the texts, all of the texts that I wrote remain just as relevant as they were before Trump walked into the White House. It’s really the same sort of historical circumstances. It’s simply more revealed in the most heinous way, and that we would have the president of the United States as the focal point at that animus and anger, I think, is a thing that is really significant about the moment.

Who are you hoping Grace Notes strikes a nerve with?

I don’t imagine any number of conservatives rushing to see this show. I think I always make work for myself, first and foremost, because I’m trying to understand something. Negotiate something. Clarify something. Or just ask myself certain kinds of questions that I need to simply have hanging in the air around me. I may not have the answer. I don’t have the answer to many things. The older I get, the less knowledgeable I become.

As a MacArthur Foundation fellow, you’re a certified genius, though. It’s official.

But I do think that the thing that I care about most is asking the right kinds of questions for our time, and that is what I’m hoping to share with our audience. Just asking the right kinds of questions. So, for instance, what is grace?

So I started working on this piece, I don’t know, maybe two years ago, three years ago. I can’t remember anymore. Spoleto commissioned it after the Charleston shootings. So I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to call this piece Grace Notes: Reflections for Now.’ So what is grace? And I didn’t have an answer. I was still up at 7 this morning struggling with this answer. Struggling with the question. And trying to answer it for myself so that I might be able to provide something for the audience. But then I realized that I really needed to ask the audience the question.

That’s been the process. And so I’m hoping that it engages people that are interested in asking themselves reflective questions about where we are, what we’re doing, how we’re doing it. … What kinds of questions do we need to ask about the sort of ongoing systemic violence against black people? How are we culpable? Is there any moment in which we are culpable?

So my coming to terms, then, with this sort of idea about grace is, maybe it’s the way, even though we’re maligned and mistreated, that we offer the best of ourselves and the best of our humanity to others, even to those who wish we were dead. I am still offering my gift of humanity to you because I know how important it is. I know you need it. I know I can share it. I know that I can reveal it, help you see it so that charity and compassion become critical in the acts of living through grace.

I ask myself at a certain point, well, is it a quality? Is it a state of being? Is it an adjective, a noun, a pronoun, an adverb? And then I call my mother. And in the show there’s a recording of my mother talking about grace.

I’m hoping that, yes, that we ask questions of ourselves and of our audience, and that they walk away curious. If they walk away with just some other questions they consider, then I’ve done my job.

There’s so much frustration and so much anger. I mean, we’re having conversations about whether or not it’s ethical to punch Nazis.

It is. (laughs) Let’s just cut to the chase. Yes.

How do you find grace when you’re fed up? I was wondering, geez, what would you have done if instead of me at the door it was Richard Spencer? I don’t know that I have much grace to extend to him.

It’s bigger than you or I. I think it’s the condition that we have endured, and that in the process of that endurance that we’re still whole. Bent but not broken. Holding on to the core of ourselves. And still being willing to offer the breath of humanity to others, because we’re not actually walking around the streets and marching up and down and shooting white m—–f——.

I know that there is something sick about the way in which you have come to understand yourself in relationship to me. That’s a gift, that I say I don’t hate you. I don’t have the energy or the time to do that. I have to hold on to my humanity. I have to hold on to my dignity. Allowing this detritus to rob you of your essence, to rob you of your beauty, that would be the crime.

So I think that grace is much bigger than — it’s not turning the other cheek. It’s really understanding that someone has lost their humanity and you’re trying to offer it back.

After the Harvey Weinstein revelations came out, wave after wave of women — not just celebrities, but all sorts of women — have come forward to say, “I’ve been sexually assaulted or have been sexually harassed.”

I don’t think I know any women that haven’t been. Somebody has touched your a–, tried to f— you or did f— you. Almost every woman that I know. And we took it.

How do we overthrow hundreds of years of patriarchy?

Start with your husband. (laughs) Start with him. I think that this is really kind of a, what do you call it? A salient moment.

But we really have to talk about the sort of sense of silence that women have endured, have placed on themselves, the way in which we’ve muzzled ourselves because we wanted our job, we wanted a man, we wanted the position, we wanted to be with the boys. Whatever it is, we have to talk about that, too, as we talk about the larger issues of the ways in which women have been historically treated.

What’s your source of hope?

You. Us. Even in my dismay, even as I watch the moral fiber of the country collapse under the weight of this very dangerous man that’s in the White House, he’ll only be around for a minute. The arc of history is long, and we have much to do. As people in New Orleans said and other places, honey, we lived through Jim Crow and came through. Right? Couldn’t get on a bus. Couldn’t move around. Couldn’t drink from a water fountain.

In the broad scheme of things, it doesn’t mean a thing. It just represents the worst of what America has to offer. But we’ve always known that that was there anyway, so he’s in one way no surprise. We thought that we had gotten a little further down the road. But I do think of that silly saying, ‘Hope does spring eternal.’ And that I can’t allow this moment to rob me of my humanity. It’s a time to really invest and anchor and be clear about my intentions and what I believe is best for me and the people that I care about and think about and honor. And to figure out ways to do that in the best possible way that allows as many people as possible to participate in that and to look at that and to see that. And I think that, in some way, Grace Notes is that.

Bree Newsome’s social justice fight continues two years after taking down the Confederate flag in South Carolina ‘Staying quiet is also like its own form of death’

It has been more than two years since Bree Newsome became a household name for climbing a 30-foot flagpole on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse and removing the Confederate flag. She knew jail would follow. However, Newsome, now 32, knew it was a task she had to do.

The mood in South Carolina at the time was bleak following the evening of June 17, 2015, when Dylann Roof gunned down nine black members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The flag that Newsome removed was originally raised in 1961 as a statement of opposition to the civil rights movement. Many individuals have always hated what the flag represents.

In many communities, Newsome became a hero and her actions caused a domino effect. In August, two years after Newsome’s act, 22-year-old Takiya Thompson was arrested after helping to take down a Confederate statue in Durham, North Carolina. Thompson was charged with disorderly conduct by injury to a statue, damage to real property, participation in a riot with property damage in excess of $1,500 — and inciting others to riot where there is property damage in excess of $1,500, according to the Durham County Sheriff’s Office. This was following a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly and prompted a call to action by many people for the removal of Confederate statues.

“I just see this shifting in the consciousness, and people just kind of reaching a point where we just can’t be quiet anymore, because I think there has been, in some ways, this belief that we keep ourselves quiet in order to survive,” Newsome said. “But staying quiet is also like its own form of death. I think people are just tired of living that form of death.”

Newsome is now a local organizer in Charlotte, North Carolina, and focusing on housing.

“We have a real affordable housing crisis going on in our city, as many cities around the country are,” Newsome said. “We have communities that were redlined in the late Sixties, that’s kind of when the cities drew, basically, lines around areas that were predominantly black that had been segregated. So, these are areas that were basically divested from, by the city and now they are prime real estate. So we have a lot of developers wanting to develop in this land, but the folks who have lived here for decades are not benefiting from it. So, housing remains an ongoing justice issue.”

Newsome says housing is a human right.

“A lot of times people say, well, it’s just a byproduct of development. But, it’s really important, again, to understand why,” Newsome said. “That’s obviously one of the basic things that we need in order to live. Then, it’s a justice issue, because we’re still very segregated. Segregation is not forced upon us anymore, it’s not part of the law, but we are still largely racially and economically segregated. How are we addressing any of these issues with wealth and with race if folks are being pushed out of their homes?”

Newsome’s father, Clarence G. Newsome, served as the dean of the Howard University School of Divinity and was the president of both Shaw University and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Her mother spent her career as an educator addressing the achievement gap. Newsome studied film at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts.

She spoke to The Undefeated about social justice, today’s battle for equality and her plans.


How do you feel about today’s racial climate?

What we are seeing today is kind of part of a pattern, I would say, in history. On one hand, I was born in ’85; in my lifetime it is maybe one of the most tense periods, racially, that I have experienced. But, when I look back over the history of America, it’s kind of part of a pattern where racial tensions kind of ebb and flow.

We’re integrating certain institutions. We obviously had the election of the nation’s first black president. Now what we’re seeing is, again, this period of racist backlash to that. But there is, kind of, this pattern of like, we make this progress forward and then there is this racist backlash. No, it’s not as bad, and I think if you talk to most folks, like my grandmother, my grandmother is 91 years old. When she saw on TV the police in Ferguson tear-gassing folks in their yard, she said, ‘It reminds me of the Ku Klux Klan.’ So, on one hand, yes, we’ve gone far, but clearly we haven’t gone far enough at all.

When I look at what is going on today, the main thing it says to me is that we cannot rest on our laurels. And that’s part of what spurred me toward becoming an activist in the first place, it was after the Trayvon Martin case.

What do you think about the protests for Colin Kaepernick?

I think that’s amazing. I support that. Two histories in America that I find really fascinating is the treatment of black veterans and the treatment of black athletes. … Even at the college level, there’s a real justice issue around the treatment of black athletes. They are clearly the majority, especially when you are talking about a sport like football. The majority of athletes are black men. They generate billions of dollars for this industry, not just in pro football, but also in college football. In many ways they are exploited. They are exploited physically. We see the kind of damage that is done physically to their bodies.

Part of what I think is really awesome about what is happening right now is there’s greater solidarity. In some ways, it’s bigger than the NFL. It’s about protesting for Colin Kaepernick to have a fair shot, but it’s also kind of bigger than that because it’s like, he has a right, as a human being, to speak. Especially to speak about a system that is killing us. When he’s out of uniform, and he’s off the field and he’s just driving down the street, he has just as much a chance of getting killed by the police as anybody else. I think that that is sometimes what people forget. They think just because a black man puts on a uniform and goes in to play football that he is supposed to disconnect from all the other realities of the nation in which he lives.

Do you recall the first thing you did as an activist?

I don’t know if you remember the Moral Monday movement that was happening here in North Carolina. That was organized by Reverend Barber and the North Carolina state chapter of NAACP. This was back in 2013. This was the same summer that George Zimmerman was acquitted. This is the same summer that the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. North Carolina just went H.A.M. on the voting issue. They hadn’t yet passed it, but they brought up this legislation, House Bill 589, and at first it was this five-page bill that focused on student voter ID. It said the students could no longer use their IDs to vote.

I go up to this Moral Monday protest about voting rights. At that time, I wasn’t considering myself an activist. I was very much aware of things that were going on. Literally overnight, between that Monday and the Tuesday, they sent the bill from the House to the Senate and they added almost 50 more pages to the bill. It was clear that they were targeting black people. They had things like ending Sunday voting.

That was the wake-up moment for me. I had always been socially and politically conscious, but I wasn’t the person out on the street protesting.

Why did you make the decision to fight for justice in North Carolina?

When I was about 2, my family moved up to Maryland. I grew up in Columbia, Maryland. I would spend all of my summers in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I live now. That’s where my grandmother is.

My grandmother would come stay with us during the school year and then I would come stay with her during the summer. Then my dad’s family is from eastern North Carolina, so the Carolinas have always been kind of like home. In a way, it’s kind of like my family home. It really wasn’t until I got back in the Raleigh-Durham area and Moral Monday was going on and I kind of connected with the folks there and I was like, ‘Yeah, I can’t go back to work now, this is too crazy.’

What has been the hardest part of your journey?

I think it’s always finding the balance. I would say, you know, in 2013 when I’m walking to the protest and I was like, ‘I can’t go back to anything, I’ve got to stay in the street.’ And I pretty much did, for like the next two years. Just protesting. I went up to Ohio when John Crawford was killed. I marched with the Ohio Student Association. I went down to Florida. We were just out protesting, just trying to raise this awareness around what was happening.

I was getting to a point where I’m exhausted. It’s traumatic. … When you ask me what has been the greatest challenge or struggle, I think it has been finding out how to sustain in this work. … How do we continue to support ourselves and do this important work? How do we balance life, and all these other things, because we’re out here fighting for our lives and there really is nothing that’s more important. But I know I reached a point where I was, like, you know, I have to live too.

Living is also resistance. If I’m out here killing myself, that’s not, at a certain point I’m no longer resisting. I have to thrive at the same time.

How would you describe your personal feelings after seeing what happened in Charlottesville?

The first word that’s coming to my mind is revelation. But I don’t know if that’s the right word. I’m trying to think of a word that is kind of revealing, because I feel like what happened with Charlottesville was, like, it was all there. All of that was there. But, it was kind of like Charlottesville was the moment that it could no longer be denied. … We’ve known for a while, we’ve known since 2008, at least. Because as soon as Obama was elected, you had a surge in white supremacist groups.

White supremacist groups have been out here organizing. They have been out here planning and connecting. And in a lot of ways folks are looking away.

So, when I think about Charlottesville, to me it was kind of ‘blatant.’ It was like that’s when America could no longer look away from what had been going on, cause here you had all of these white supremacist groups from around the nation organizing and converging on this city over this monument. And, the same way people kept saying, ‘Well, you know, does the monument really represent this, does the Confederate flag really represent that?’ People were really trying to still be kind of wishy-washy about it and it was like Charlottesville was the moment that they could no longer deny what had already been there. It’s not that Charlottesville was new. It’s that Charlottesville made plain what was already there.

How do you see your work in social justice?

The way I look at the work is two ways. One, I think we have system-facing work. There’s work where we are trying to dismantle a racist system. We have a system of white supremacy, and that’s one of the main things I speak about all the time is trying to get people to understand. Racism is not just prejudice. It’s not just, ‘I don’t like somebody because of the color of their skin.’ It’s a system that was designed. It’s an economy. It’s a social caste system that is built based upon, not just the color of a person’s skin, but African ancestry. It is built on the subjugation of people who are descended from Africans. So, I think there is system-facing work and then there is community-facing work. And I try to get people to see both ends. Because I think sometimes we think it’s either-or. Either we’re out here fighting white supremacy or we are doing work in the community. We’re trying to come out of 500 years of slavery.

My family was enslaved in South Carolina and North Carolina. So, I know the personal story of my family trying to come out of slavery. But as a people … that’s the work that we’re trying to do. It’s about economic freedom, it’s about mental freedom. It’s about having agency over ourselves. It’s about how do we break free of oppressive dynamics that we have internalized from the people who have oppressed us. … Sometimes I’m speaking to the system and then sometimes I’m just talking to my people.

Daily Dose: 8/22/17 BuzzFeed publishes more on R. Kelly

Another day, another R. Kelly story. Longtime journalist and Kelly chronicler Jim DeRogatis, after last month’s bombshell story for BuzzFeed, is back with more explosive reporting on the Grammy Award-winning singer and his sexual exploits with underage girls. In a story published late Monday night, once again on BuzzFeed, DeRogatis spoke with a woman who claims she started a sexual relationship with Kelly when she was 16 and said she suffered mental and physical abuse from him for nearly two years. Despite all that has been reported about the singer since the early 2000s, the most disturbing accusation to date may be that Kelly met the woman, Chicago native Jerhonda Pace, at the Cook County Circuit Court while the former was on trial in 2008 for making child pornography. Pace was 15 at the time.

The first white NFL player took a knee during the playing of the national anthem. After public displays of support — but no outright protests — by white players Chris Long, Justin Britt and Derek Carr, Cleveland Browns tight end Seth DeValve joined 11 of his teammates in taking a “knee in prayer” before Monday’s game against the New York Giants. With that gesture, DeValve became the first white player to join a movement begun last season by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (who retweeted a message of support for the Browns players). There are two interesting wrinkles here, as well. First, Browns coach Hue Jackson said just last week that he hoped his players wouldn’t protest the anthem; also, DeValve is married to an African-American woman, one prominently displayed on his personal social media accounts. He added that he wanted to take part in the kneeling because “I myself will be raising children that don’t look like me.”

America is beefing up its war in Afghanistan. President Donald Trump, in a prime-time address to the nation Monday, said the U.S. military will deploy more troops to that country, extending the 16-year-old conflict in the region, the longest in U.S. history. This is a stark departure from Trump’s previous views on Afghanistan, which included questioning when the U.S. would “stop wasting money on rebuilding Afghanistan” in 2011 as well as multiple pleas between 2012-14 to get out of the conflict altogether. During the Republican primaries two years ago, he flip-flopped on whether the invasion was a “terrible mistake” or not. To be fair, Trump acknowledged his past conflicting statements, but he also refused to announce a number of troops to be deployed and found a way to blame former President Barack Obama, despite offering a strategy similar to his predecessor’s.

Houston Rockets guard James Harden will donate $100,000 to Texas Southern University. The NBA MVP runner-up will designate the funds for students at the historically black university who are in financial need. TSU president Dr. Austin Lane told Fox 26 Houston that the funds will serve students “from what I consider to be one of the lowest socioeconomic backgrounds in the city, if not the state or the country.” Harden follows in the footsteps of Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, who donated $1 million each to Alabama A&M University and Clark Atlanta University, both HBCUs, last November.


Things that make you think …

  1. Speaking of Trump, the commander in chief once implied that Kaepernick should leave the country instead of protesting the national anthem and took credit for the quarterback not having a job. After Monday’s Afghanistan announcement, what’s more harmful to the troops: not standing for (an arguably racist) song or sending more soldiers into a conflict that has already claimed more than 2,200 lives?
  2. At least 25 Confederate monuments across the country have been removed since Heather Heyer was killed 10 days ago during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Like the aftermath of the murders of nine parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, two years ago, it took the death of a U.S. citizen for state and local governments to finally remove relics of the Confederacy.

South Carolina church shooting survivors support filmmaker’s new project exploring similar experience La Trycee Fowler is bringing to light what happens to survivors after tragedy

Two years ago, Dylann Roof opened fire at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing the pastor, Clementa Pinckney, and eight members during an open Bible study.

The aftermath for the family members has been an overwhelming and difficult journey. Like many tragedies, life goes on for the rest of the world, but it brings an entirely new meaning to life for those affected. One independent filmmaker is depicting a similar tragedy in her new project, Broken, and it has the support of family members of the South Carolina shooting victims.

La Trycee Fowler, writes, produces and stars in the film. According to a press release, Broken follows the lives of two children in a small Southern Mississippi town who witness a massacre at their church, leaving one of them orphaned. The film tells a visually captivating story of how they are coping with the tragedy 10 years later and what happens after an unexpected run-in with the murderer. Ray, once a happy, playful child, has become bitter and angry with the world. Nori has vivid recurring nightmares and physically finds herself frozen in terror after awakening from them. As the sole survivors from that day, they only have each other. A fateful face-to-face encounter with one of the murderers causes all involved to remain “Broken.”

“I wrote this film because I wondered what effects something like this would have on society,” Fowler said. “How does such a hate-filled, senseless act affect the lives of those left behind? My goal is to use the film to start a dialogue about hate as a cancer in our society, in the hopes of people realizing that our actions cause a ripple effect not only in others’ lives, but in our own lives as well.”

The family of Ethel Lance, a victim of the AME shooting, said the “film should be introduced at the high school level as a teaching tool to think before you act.”

Bethane Middleton-Brown, whose sister, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, was killed in the shooting, said, “I don’t want the world to ever forget the Emanuel 9. … There are a lot of broken hearts that need to be healed, a lot of stories that need to be told. … I want mine to encourage people to love, and love monetarily by giving, because that’s what it’s going to take to help others.”

Fowler has started a HatchFund campaign to raise money for the film set to begin production on Aug. 31 in Virginia. The Dale City, Virginia, native is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a concentration in pre-medicine. She relocated to Hollywood, California, shortly after graduation to pursue a film career. She created, directed and produced a web series, Hope, that was an Official Selection for the 2012 Los Angeles Web SeriesFestival and won Outstanding Ensemble Cast and Outstanding Drama.

In wake of the hate crimes in Maryland and Oregon, self-protection becomes a priority Highly publicized, race-motivated crimes are forcing black America to think about legal carry … or not

Should we bring a gun?

It’s not exactly the question you think would come to mind while planning a leisurely getaway. But as my husband and I packed for a long weekend of culture, Southern cuisine and a well-deserved rest, it was one we repeatedly and seriously asked ourselves.

We were headed to the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, where the heat and history can be oppressive. It’s a city that sometimes feels like a foreign country, but it’s as all-American as it gets. You can stand where men, women and children were shackled, poked, prodded, bought and sold — you can feel their ghosts. Some 40 percent of the enslaved in the 13 colonies during the trans-Atlantic slave trade came through the city. And yet, here we are, a black woman and white man, mixing and mingling and applauding with audiences and performers of all races at what’s become a major tourist draw.

In Charleston, the past is never past, as unapologetic racist Dylann Roof proved when in 2015 he chose historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, known as Mother Emanuel, a spiritual and civil rights bulwark, as the site of a hate-filled killing spree, murdering nine parishioners after praying with them for the better part of an hour. In North Charleston, unarmed African-American Walter Scott was shot by a police officer in the back; it was considered imperfect justice when Scott’s killer, Michael Slager, pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge after a state jury could not agree on a verdict despite video evidence.

Charleston has its special history. But is it all that different from the rest of America?


In New Orleans, the decision to remove and move monuments to the Confederacy, some erected long after the Civil War’s end, is debated and resisted.

Portland, Oregon, has its own Western brand of exclusionary racism baked in the soil, exemplified by Oregon’s policy barring blacks from living there when the state entered the union in 1859 and the legacy of those actions since then. In Portland, a man has been charged in the murder of two white men and the attempted murder of a third when the three came to the aid of two African-American women, one wearing a hijab, being harangued and harassed on public transportation last month. The accused attacker was known for expressing white supremacist views at rallies and on social media.

In Maryland, my home state, an empty chair took the place of 23-year-old Richard Collins III, a recently commissioned U.S. Army second lieutenant, at his Bowie State University graduation; his life was ended as he waited for his ride at a University of Maryland bus stop. A 22-year-old white man, who was a member of a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich,” has been charged in the stabbing; authorities are investigating whether it was a hate crime.

When crowds in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting a City Council vote to remove a park statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee marched, shouted and carried flaming torches, all that was missing was a burning cross.

There is aggression in words as well, and no one is immune. So Cleveland Cavalier great LeBron James was not that surprised when a racist slur was spray-painted on the gate of his Los Angeles home.

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you,” the saying goes.

America’s focus has turned to the danger from without, from foreign terrorism and the bad actors entering the country with mayhem in mind. Those are the stories making the headlines, though in truth, domestic terrorism is the threat many people of color fear the most.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks attacks by extremists and domestic terrorism and threats by hate groups, which saw an increase in the years of the Obama presidency and continue to rise.

So it made sense for my husband and me to investigate the South Carolina gun laws. The state’s “your home is your castle” Castle Doctrine extends to vehicles and workplaces, meaning our registered piece could indeed travel with us on a journey we hoped would be routine but feared could escalate in an instant.

Laws for self-protection and the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms are tricky and possibly dangerous for African-Americans, as those rights once applied only to whites — and some would say they still do. A registration did not stop legal gun owner Philando Castile from being killed in Minnesota in July 2016 by a panicked police officer, who was found not guilty of any crime this past week despite shooting into a car with a 4-year-old girl as a passenger.

Many, however, have decided taking that chance is worth it, and it has been reported that gun ownership among African-Americans is increasing.

In Charleston, in between programs of opera, dancing and jazz, we made the pilgrimage to Mother Emanuel, quiet and protected. It sits on Calhoun Street, which honors South Carolinian John C. Calhoun, a defender of slavery as a “positive good.”

On these streets, our marriage would have been a crime 50 years ago, before the Loving case removed the legal barriers. In 1998, when South Carolina threw out its unenforceable state ban, 38 percent of voters wanted to keep the pre-Loving status quo.

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is planning a memorial to peace and justice in Montgomery, Alabama, acknowledging the lynching and legally sanctioned racial terror that traumatized citizens and left a legacy. “Our goal isn’t to be divisive,” Bryan Stevenson, the director of the EJI told The New York Times. “Our goal is just to get people to confront the truth of our past with some more courage.” The museum “From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration” would be one of many memorials.

Are these reminders needed? Last month, tourists visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington found a noose in an exhibition on segregation. In an email to staff, museum director Lonnie Bunch said, “Today’s incident is a painful reminder of the challenges that African-Americans continue to face.”

Will America face this enemy within?

As for our final decision on that gun, we decided not to carry after all. It would have been legal, but it may not have been wise. We did, however, pack a big honkin’ knife.

A state-of-the-art African-American museum is coming to Charleston, South Carolina The $75 million project will include a resource center for African-American genealogy

There are many unique ways to tell the story of the United States’ rich, cultural African-American history. From the first African slaves to step onto American soil to the complex yet resplendent history of African-Americans today, there are still so many stories that have yet to be told.

It’s part of the reason that businessman Michael Boulware Moore, the great-great-grandson of Robert Smalls, an enslaved African-American who escaped to freedom by commandeering a Confederate supply ship, is hoping to help continue to educate the public by spearheading a project that will bring a $75 million African-American museum to Charleston, South Carolina.

“I’ve got a real deep connection to Charleston, to African-American history, to the project, and so I decided to come on and help lead the museum and help raise the money that we need to break ground and to get it built so it can make the greatest impact it can make,” Moore said.

The International African American Museum, slated to open in late 2020, will feature several exhibits that will walk visitors through West Africa in the 17th century and end with the formation of new African-American communities in the 21st century, according to the website. Inside, exhibits will include digital wall backdrops, large-scale film, imagery and life-sized interactive contemporary figures for visitors to engage.

The museum will also focus on the full scope of African-American history, with an emphasis on South Carolina’s role in colonial American history.

Between 1783 and 1808, approximately 100,000 slaves arriving from across West Africa were transported through Gadsden’s Wharf and other South Carolina ports and sold to the 13 colonies, according to an article in The New York Times. Nearly half of enslaved Africans brought to America came through Charleston, and nearly 80 percent of African-Americans can potentially trace an ancestor who arrived in the city.

“Building the museum in Charleston is that one spot where we can all pilgrimage to, to pay homage to our ancestors, pay respects to the sacrifices that they made and contemplate our own lives based on that context,” Moore said. “It was a place where so much economic vibrancy and growth and innovation came from.”

Moore became the chief executive officer of the International African American Museum in February 2016 after being invited to join the museum’s board by former Charleston mayor Joseph Riley. At the time, the board was looking for executive leadership to help move the project along. Having spent more than two decades as an advertising executive leading major marketing campaigns for brands such as Coca-Cola and Kraft, Moore was a perfect fit for the job.

“On one hand, I’ve been this marketer consulting, working and running companies,” Moore said. “On the other, there’s a side of me that’s been focused on social justice, serving others and African-American history. This is the first opportunity in my life where I’ve been able to leverage all of me in service to a project. It’s a very special opportunity. It’s one that I take really, really seriously because of the impact it potentially can have, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about the team we have around us and what we’re doing.”

There are several features Moore and developers plan to incorporate to enhance the museum experience, including a free smartphone app and beacons in each exhibit that will allow visitors to receive the exhibit’s content through video, text and audio right to their phones.

Moore and his team are also negotiating with officials in Sierra Leone to bring artifacts from the West African nation’s old slave fort, Bunce Island, to the museum.

“We’ve discussed bringing a couple of stones that were at the end of a jetty at Bunce Island,” Moore said. “They used to aggregate the captives there, march them down this stone jetty and onto slave ships. The last two stones, we’re talking about retrieving those, bringing them here and using them as a centerpiece of a memorial for the African ancestors.”

One of the most important aspects of the museum will be its Center for Family History, which, according to Moore, is set to become the leading resource center for African-American genealogy in the country. Partnering with DNA firms, genealogy readings will be able to tell visitors specifically where their African ancestry originated on the continent.

“Someone will walk in like most African-Americans and not know a whole lot about their long-term family history,” Moore said. “Most African-Americans can go back maybe to a great-grandparent. They’ll be able to walk out with a full account of their family history back to the first African who came here. It’s really going to be a transformative experience.”

Although several African-American museums exist in the United States, Moore hopes visitors will come to Charleston to pay homage to those who came before them and leave the invaluable experience with a deeper sense of their identity.

“Because this museum is on a spot where almost all African-Americans have a relative, there will be a real connection to the space and to the beginning of our American experience,” Moore said. “What we hope to try to create in this museum is a place where all African-Americans, wherever you are in the country or hemisphere, will want to bring your family here. It’s a place where your ancestors came and a place we can finally go to pay homage to their experiences and sacrifices, and reconnect with them.”