This post was originally published on Afro

By Tinashe Chingarande

The kaleidoscopic nature of revolutionary Black men who pursued change in service of the Black community will be highlighted for roughly two more weeks at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. 

“Men of Change,” —an exhibition curated by Marquette Folley, content director at the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES)— tells stories of power, triumph and truth through a bold contemporary art collection of photographs, quotes and literary excerpts. Artwork is also used to highlight Black men who have trailblazed across history such as Muhammad Ali, Lebron James, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Alvin Ailey, among others. 

The exhibition opened in February and is a collaboration between SITES, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum and Ford Motor Company.

“Even though we’re looking at change, it’s always focused on change for the better,” said Terri Freeman, executive director at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. “It is important to me for young people to see that there are parallels, and that even though things change, they’re still the same.”

Freeman added that this can be seen in how Ta-Nehisi Coates’s literary work harks back to James Baldwin’s dynamic body of work, which challenged the status quo in the 1960s and 1970s. 

For other administrators of the museum, the exhibition also combats stereotypes of Black men in an age where they are rarely viewed as something to aspire to be.

“The exhibit comes after we’ve seen stereotypes of Black men have resulted in death,” said Izetta Mobely, the museum’s director of interpretation, collections and education. “What are the ways we’re seeing people and how does that impact experiences?”

Mobley is responsible for creating programming, organizing school tours and facilitating educational opportunities for the museum’s audiences. She also helps audiences learn skills of “close looking” to foster a deeper interaction and understanding of the message behind an artist’s work.

“This isn’t about display but representation and honoring complex black personhood,” she said. “It’s a powerful statement of who gets to be included.” 

Mobley also added that “Men of Change ” encourages viewers to bring the past in service of their future— a concept that she believes is best-illustrated by the Sankofa Bird, a Ghanian mythological creature that faces forward but also looks back.

As the exhibition nears its close on Sept. 11, both Freeman and Mobley say that they have been pleased by their partnership with SITES as it has made international art accessible to local people in Baltimore. Additionally, as an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum gained access to trainings for staff, curators and exhibitors. 

“Partnering with a larger organization is about access to different types of exhibitions that we  wouldn’t be able to bring in without  the relationship,” said Freeman. 

The exhibition is a rebuttal to a growing trend of individuals and institutions seeking to erase Black history from curricula.

Debra Stewart was moved by her visit to the exhibit on May 7 of this year. 

“To conceive, see, know and believe in our story past, present and future, we must see our Black Men,” she wrote in the museum guest book. “Our Black Men are not only seen through this exhibit, but rightfully showcased and explored. Thank you for seeing us by showing them.”

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