Stepping Out of Your Own Experience
July 11, 2019
On Monday, we took the Mandela Washington Fellows to visit the State Department followed by a trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I’m not sure I can find the words to express how powerful the museum is or how thought-provoking or inspiring.
For three hours on Monday, I stepped out of my experience and into a world I had only read about in textbooks, which often whitewash the truth, or in novels, or seen in movies. As the large elevator descended in time to the lowest level of the museum and the doors opened, I first saw traditional tribal artifacts from the 1400s and read about the locations of the people across Africa, but it quickly turned difficult because within only a few short steps I found myself looking at heavy iron shackles.
As I moved through the exhibits looking at documents detailing these young African men and women as property, the schematics of the slave ships, and how the slaves were to be loaded and transported in the belly of these boats, I could not help but feel emotion. I could not help but feel sick in the pit of my stomach. I could not help but feel anger and sorrow and terror and think about those who were captured and what they must have felt and the worry, loss, and sorrow those who were left behind felt.
The museum did not whitewash anything. When I entered the room, depicted in huge brass letters on the wall, were the words from our Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal… with certain unalienable Rights…Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it,” and just below them is an exhibit depicting the paradox of those words that liberated us from England, forcing visitors to revisit these words, their meaning, and more importantly their application.
I entered the museum not only looking through my white lens, but also through the Fellows’ lens, through an African lens, which perhaps made the experience more impactful and emotional for me. We get stuck in our own worlds, doing little to step out of our experience and that has an impact on us both personally and professionally. By broadening our experience, we open ourselves up to new ideas, new people, new perspectives, which in turn provides a space for creativity and collaboration.
So, this weekend or next week or on your next vacation, actively seek out ways to step out of your experience and open the doors to other perspectives, other ideas, other ways of viewing the world around us. The possibilities—professionally or personally—are endless.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies
Photo Credit: Smithsonian AlanKarchmer_220.jpg
from Douglas Remley (Smithsonian)