Honoring the stories of African heritage in the Northwest

Seattle’s Northwest African American Museum is encouraging everyone to participate in the celebration of Black history and culture year-round.

Located in Seattle’s historically African American Central District, NAAM’s reach is going beyond its four walls. During the pandemic, they shifted content online, and outside with social distancing measures.

“This opportunity to overcome closures by pivoting to a virtual and outdoor platform has really strengthened our team and drawn us even closer to community,” NAAM Executive Director LaNesha DeBardelaben said.

DeBardelaben tells KIRO 7 they are reaching a wider audience during the pandemic.

During interactive reading time, NAAM shares stories with Black characters to highlight the importance of representation in literature. They want to empower children with books written and illustrated by Black authors and artists.

One example is “Hair Love,” by former NFL wide receiver Matthew Cherry. It is about a father helping his daughter style her hair but the broader message is to normalize and celebrate Black hair. The book became an Oscar-winning short film.

The museum has continued monthly book giveaways to ensure families have access to enriching Black-centered material throughout the year. Another goal is to provide stories that explore multigenerational viewpoints in the Northwest.

“We are really focused on what Black history means in this moment, and what this moment means for Black futures, an important linking point between our collective past and our shared future,” DeBardelaben said.

The online exhibits also bring the museum into households around the world. This gives Black artists a platform to promote meaningful engagement.

“As James Baldwin said, history is literally present in all that we do. It’s around us, it is us, we are. We are carrying this history. We are this history. And so it is so important that we take time to understand the lessons that the past teaches us about the present and what’s to come, and how we can overcome more effectively,” DeBardelaben said.

Recognizing the African American experience in the Northwest is about understanding and preserving an evolving story 365 days a year, she said.

“Bringing their stories, their achievements, their challenges, their failures, their lessons learned, we bring those to the present so we can all collectively in our quest for a more just beloved community so we can all be informed and united,” DeBardelaben said.

During Black History Month, the Northwest African American Museum is presenting a wide range of programs. For details visit their website: https://www.naamnw.org/