WASHINGTON – Four years ago,Tavis Smiley had a dream. After visiting the Jamestown Settlement Yorktown Victory Center in 2007,he was deeply moved and wanted to convey to Americans the great impact that African American culture has had on the U.S.
Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in North America and is credited with the first arrival of Africans in 1619.
On Jan. 15,2009,that dream came to life in Philadelphia at the opening of America I Am: The African American Imprint.
The exhibit includes more than 200 artifacts from the U.S. and around the world that are related to black culture.
Smiley showed a group of fifth-graders from Neval Thomas Elementary School around the exhibit Tuesday during the press preview.
“Rick Ross,” one of kid shouted back,referring to the rapper.
Smiley laughed,”No,that’s not Rick Ross,that’s Isaac Hayes. Hayes is the singer and composer who composed the “Theme from Shaft.”
The most important part about the tour,Smiley said,was for the kids to learn about their history.
“It’s the record of your past. … It is asking young people between your birth and your death to leave the imprint of your life here,” he said.
It took Smiley,host of “Tavis Smiley Late Night” on PBS and host of “The Tavis Smiley Show” on Public Radio International,about two years to put the exhibit together. He hired Arts and Exhibitions International,an arts and entertainment firm that organized the recent King Tut exhibit,to work with him to put the exhibit together.
It opened Wednesday,the second day of Black History Month,at the National Geographic Museum.
The exhibit houses artifacts that were borrowed from private owners and museums around the world. Each item was chosen for the “imprint” it has left on U.S.
The exhibit covers 20,000 square feet and features 12 galleries and four theaters.
Among exhibit’s most prized pieces are Rosa Park’s fingerprint card from the day she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus,a guitar Prince played at the 2007 Super Bowl and the jail door key from the Birmingham cell once occupied by Martin Luther King Jr.
“It’s not just an exhibit,it’s an experience,” Smiley said.
The exhibit explores the cultural,spiritual,economic and social-political impact that black culture has had on society through video,light,sound and images.
Smiley said he does not have plans to tour internationally,but he has thought about it.
This is the fifth stop for the exhibit,which remains on view here through May 1. After that,it will visit New York,Chicago,St. Louis and Indianapolis. A city in Arkansas will also host the exhibit,although the location hasn’t been set.