African American Museum to start teen discussions
When Kiana Ray, 17, eats in a restaurant, drinks from a public water fountain or chooses a seat on any bus, she owes thanks to her grandparents and others who helped challenge the system of segregation, she said.
She also gives credit to the museum occupying a shotgun house at 538 South Blvd. where Sadie Roberts-Joseph, its founder and curator, teaches students about black history achievers, provides demonstrations on how early Americans shucked corn, bathed in wash tubs, created their own quilts and stood up for change during the Baton Rouge Bus Boycotts of 1953.
“We do need to know what happened to our grandparents and to our ancestors. It’ll help us appreciate life and freedom more,” said Ray, a senior at Scotlandville Magnet.
Ray plans to get involved with Roberts-Joseph’s next museum venture as well, a series of “History Matters Now and Then” teen discussions at the Odell S. Williams Now and Then Museum of African-American History starting later this summer and throughout the school year.
Roberts-Joseph said teens will talk about issues ranging from their freedoms, to the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation, educational issues and the meaning of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments which were added to the U.S. Constitution during Reconstruction after the Civil War, Roberts-Joseph said.
“We want to usher in a conversation to get them to talk about subjects not commonly talked about … and it could very well become the catalyst for positive change to open up dialogue and discussion to unify the city and state,” Roberts-Joseph said.
Ray plans to share some of her own research on the Emancipation Proclamation, a topic for which she placed first in the high school division during the 21st annual Juneteenth Freedom Day celebration essay contest sponsored by Yoruba Community Association in June.
Ray said history lessons have helped deepen her appreciation for the past.
In her essay, she described the day black slaves in Texas found out they had been freed. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation officially freeing all slaves on Jan. 1, 1863, but word didn’t reach the slaves in Texas until six months (June 19) after the proclamation was signed.
The teen history discussions could also help teens think more about their ability to contribute to change, Ray said.
“It’s a good idea. It will give this generation a chance to research our background and get to know what our ancestors went through,” Ray said. “We’d take a lot more for granted if we didn’t know about our grandparents being refused service in a restaurant because they were black or having to sit at the back of the bus. I couldn’t imagine that. If we didn’t know, we’d take minor stuff like eating at a fast-food restaurant for granted.”
Roberts-Joseph said Ray’s essay and other winners in the contest have inspired her to start the discussions.
“I believe youth are the agents of change. As we look around and see what’s happening in our schools and communities, we don’t talk to the ones most impacted by it. This will give us an opportunity to hear from the source and see how they can impact the future.
“The young have always been involved in change and we know that they have great minds, we just have to redirect their energy…we have to give them avenues for self expression,” Roberts-Joseph said.
For information on visiting the museum or learning about “History Matters Now and Then” teen discussions, contact Roberts-Joseph at (225) 343-4431.
Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at chante firstname.lastname@example.org.