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A Few Tips for Visiting the National Museum of African American History and CultureSports and Spirituality Style

On my recent trip to our nation's capital, I finally made it to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This outstanding museum is "a place where all Americans can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience, what it means to their lives, and how it helped us shape this nation." As an American, an American Studies major, a Catholic Christian, a teacher and a sports fan, I was excited to visit, observe, read, learn, question, participate and share in the experience from those lenses to name a few. For those who have not been to the NMAAHC and even for those who have, I would like to offer but a few suggestions and ideas from which to navigate your own experience—Sports and Spirituality style.

Although the museum opened under the Obama administration—on September 24, 2016, it remains difficult to get in—unless you are someone who, unlike me, is known for planning in advance. As written on their websiteThe National Museum of African American History and Culture is open daily to the public. Free timed-entry passes are required for entry.

Travel websites will offer different information, but this was my experience as of June 8, 2023. The daily timed-entry pass was not released at 6:00 a.m. OR at 6:30 a.m. I kept that window open on my computer and at approximately 8:15 a.m. (all times are Eastern) tickets for every half hour window on the day were available. I chose to go when the museum opened at 10:00 a.m. I arrived at 10:15 a.m. after getting off at the Smithsonian Metro stop (Metro Center is not far. Smithsonian was very close) I was not asked to show my ticket upon entry....
A long time fan of Ragtime music, I loved seeing this tribute to Scott Joplin

How to Tour
The museum's website notes "Please be aware that touring the History Galleries in their entirety will take approximately 2 hours, and will require about 1 mile of walking." I hate to disagree with a Smithsonian curator, but a two hour time stamp on the entirety of this museum's collection is a gross underestimate. Rather, I think the average patron has but two hours in them to give what is presented in light of the attention it demands. The content of the NMAAHC is heavy. It is rich and vibrant, tragic and inspiring. It is difficult to muster the emotional energy to see it all, let alone in 120 minutes.

As the front desk recommends, yes, visit the Slavery and Freedom 1400-1877 (the history of slavery). I learned so much and this context cannot be divorced from the larger experience of what this museum offers. Depending on how long it takes you to navigate this floor (the museum begins three floors underground and patrons ascend each respective level while discovering a new theme/focus), I recommend seeking out the exhibits that speak to you and your lens on the world. What are you interested in? What are you passionate about? Music? Religion? Architecture? Historical figures? Leadership? It is worthwhile to either read the website in advance or spend a few minutes reviewing the museum pamphlet in order to familiarize yourself with what is on display and where. For example, I spent far too much time on the lower levels. I went upstairs only to find two significant exhibits—one on sports and one about music. I was tired but I didn't want to miss out. I didn't.

If you are an extrovert like me, go to the museum with a friend or colleague. I need to process what I see with another person. I do better when I can share what I am thinking and feeling. I have and hold questions. I like unpacking those with another person.

I will be using this icon, featuring John the Baptist in my Christology course.

Before you go, read. Read a book about African American culture, an African American leader or contributor to society. Listen to a podcast about Black identity or politics. In other words bring something from the outside world—your world—or recent value and interest into the museum. This educational discipline will allow you to make connections between what you are learning and what is before you.

For example, as noted in my blog post: A Wrinkle in the Debate: Who is the G.O.A.T.? Thank you, John Thompson
In preparation for my travels to Washington DC, I picked up "I Came As a Shadow," the autobiography of legendary Georgetown basketball coach—John Thompson. As my mother's daughter, I wanted to read more about a place I'm visiting; sports is always my preferred point of entry.

The exhibit Sports: Leveling the Playing Field profiles not only individual athletes as "Exhibition Luminaries." Thompson wrote "This is one of the dangerous things with athletes. Athletes don't choose to be role models. The public chooses them. Setting an example is part of an athlete's responsibility, particularly with African Americans because there are still not enough examples for Black kids of pathways to success other than sports." Framing these profiles in this context offered a valuable and weighty perspective. 

I hope that Thompson would value this exhibit, as it aims to explore "the contributions of athletes, both on and off the field. Some athletes have been symbolic figures of black ability, while others have taken their activism beyond the court to the courtroom, boardroom and the newsroom." I think it succeeded in its approach to looking at these "role models" in their efforts in 
Social Activism and Breaking the Color Line. I hope you will see for yourself. 

While there was a particular focus 
on Black American contributions to basketball, football, baseball and the Olympic games, what I appreciated most was the display on Althea Gibson who excelled at both tennis and golf. While I personally believe Jackie Joyner-Kersee ought to be on the female Mt. Rushmore, perhaps Gibson should be too. Thoughts?! And talk about breaking a color barrier...

The Contemplative Court on the ground floor.

After reascending to the ground floor, take a moment to enter the Contemplative Court. This is a proper space to pause for prayer and quiet reflection. Truly, it is worth taking but a few moments to offer prayers for peace and reconciliation, of healing and forgiveness. Pray for those who were enslaved and for those who fought for their freedom. Pray for a world that is open to learning about a difficult past in the hope of building a better today and tomorrow. At times, I stood in awe of the fortitude, integrity, courage and determination of countless, named and unknown men and women who fought for equality and respect, their basic human rights and  much, much more. This museum is one, among the many, we are blessed to have in the heart of our nation's capital.

Photo Credits
I took all of these!

source https://sportsandspirituality.blogspot.com/2023/06/a-few-tips-for-visiting-national-museum.html


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