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African American museum offers unique experiences

By Mitchell Grauberger
On October 10, 2018

Founded in 1993, the African American Museum of Iowa (AAMI) offers an opportunity for patrons to learn about African American heritage, with a focus on Iowa. 

The museum houses two exhibits at any given time, one being a permanent exhibit called Endless Possibilities and the other changing yearly.   

“Endless Possibilities looks at broad African American history, starting all the way back in western Africa and going all the way up to the election of President Obama. And then it uses kind of a lens on Iowa, so we try to use as many Iowa stories in telling that history as we can,” said Sean Donaldson, museum educator at the AAMI.   

The current changing exhibit, Driven By Hope, features stories of African American migration from the American South to the North and specifically to Iowa, between the end of the Civil War and the start of the Great Depression.   

“That exhibit explores a lot of the realities of our post-slavery world to the early 1900s, some of the successes that came with that, as well as the failures and adversities that came with that too,” commented Donaldson. “So you get everything from great music to new job opportunities to the Klan, all at one time.” 

The AAMI has gone through many changes in its 25 years.  Donaldson explained, “We started in ’93 and we were founded by a small group of members of the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church. So this church community in town, they realized that African American history wasn’t really represented in schools, so they decided to do something about it. They made a small collection in the church basement and eventually moved to a storefront in a shopping mall, before they built this [current facility] in 2003.” 

Admission for students is $2.50 and there are many benefits to students visiting the AAMI, according to Donaldson.  “It’s an important view and reminder of some of the histories that we don’t talk about as much as we grow up and go through school,” commented Donaldson.  

He added that African American heritage impacts everyone’s day to day life. “It explains how our community is made up the way it is, it explains why people react and live the way that they do in our society today.”   

The AAMI offers internships as well as volunteer opportunities for college students. 

One can intern or volunteer in the education department, collections department, marketing, development, the museum store, as docents leading tours and more. 

For more information on volunteering or interning at the AAMI, visit blackiowa.org. 

When asked for any final thoughts, Donaldson offered these words, “I discovered the AAMI as a student in Cedar Rapids. I volunteered, I interned here, worked into a part time job, worked into this job, I think that it’s kind of a really well-hidden gem. We see a fair number of people but there’s still a lot of people in the community that are missing something that I think is really cool. I feel lucky to get to be involved in it and I think it’d be awesome if more people got to experience what we have.”

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