Elevating NMAAHC into the Stream of Black Cool

Yesterday’s New York Times piece on the reemergence of new museums and cultural centers showcasing the historical achievements of African Americans and their battle for civil rights caused me to flashback to an interesting period in my professional career and I hope what I’m about to write is never held against me by a hiring committee.

I was in a junior public relations position and my director at the time was actually a cool guy – intelligent, quick witted, a great task manager, and not too cranky after three cups of coffee sans any cream or sugar. However, without any initiation from me, he had an uncanny habit of routinely comparing the past plight of African Americans to that of his Jewish ancestors.

My cube was adjacent to his office and he started a conversation on this topic at least once a month. Over the course of thirty plus months, this amounted to one time too many.  I was young enough to be his child (possibly even his grandchild), the conversations were emotionally uncomfortable and endless discussion on the impact of Black slavery versus the Holocaust wasn’t helping me learn any new professional skills other than workplace tolerance.

Without getting into the exact dialogue of our conversations, I’ll just say they typically ended with he and I saying the following, respectively: “I can’t believe you’ve never been to the Holocaust Museum. You really should visit it.” — “I will. As soon as a national museum honoring the history and achievements of African Americans is built in Washington in a similar fashion.” We would then proceed to roll our eyes at each other and continue tip tapping away at our computers.

Fast forward a number of years later and that museum I dreamed of is actually being built on The National Mall and I couldn’t be more overjoyed. In fact, the National Museum of African American History and Cultural’s official groundbreaking will commence less twenty-four hours from now with President Barack Obama delivering remarks, but sadly I see one wrinkle.

At a recent book signing and discussion of Rebecca Walker’s Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness, there was a constant reiteration of the unmatched ability African Americans have to remix the ordinary and make it cool, and their dominant presence, participation and influence on Twitter.

However, if one were to take a page from my former director and compare the Twitter following of @NMAAHC to the number of amassed by @HolocaustMuseum – 3,784  to 107,377 – the institution deemed with having the greatest social media influence would be the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In terms of Facebook, the number of likes are a little less contrasting with 12,883 for NMAAHC and 34,406 for the Holocaust Museum.

To be fair, NMAAHC started tweeting on May 1, 2009 and although it’s been hosting an impressive number of exhibits and events over the last few years at fellow Smithsonian properties in Washington and other cultural institutions across the country, its actual building won’t be completed until 2015. The Holocaust Museum has been tweeting since August 28, 2007 and next year will mark its twentieth anniversary, so the museum has had a lot more to tweet about and more time to do so.

In Rebecca Walker’s intro to Black Cool, she decodes the cool factor of a popular photo showing President Obama emerging from a black sedan. Walker deems the photo Black Cool and concludes that “it is made up of elements that can be traced back to a place, a people and a culture…”

These are definitely elements that are embodied by the idea of NMAAHC and its very creation is undeniably cool, but its social media presence needs to be remixed a little to get it to black cool. So how can the tremendous presence African Americans have on Twitter correlate into social media success for NMAAHC? Here are a few ideas:

  • Follow @NMAAHC & Live Tweet: Tomorrow’s groundbreaking event for NMAAHC is not open to the general public, but will be live streamed over the web starting at 10 a.m. ET. If you can, follow @NMAAHC, watch the ceremony online, and live tweet using the #groundbreaking2012 hashtag, and encourage others to do the same. There’s no reason so many us can live tweet a reality show, a celebrity’s funeral service, a professional or collegiate sports game and not do the same for a new Smithsonian institution dedicated to our ancestors.
  • Twitter Trending Topics: Today’s US trending topics on Twitter include Madri Gras, #AndYouWonderWhyYouAreSingle, and Rihanna and Chris Brown. For tomorrow, let’s help make NMAAHC, Smithsonian and #groundbreaking2012 part of this list. Here are some resources to get you started:
  • Post Photos & Videos of NMAAHC’s Construction: Social media enthusiasts can be very enterprising when they’re passionate about a cause (e.g. education, free speech, the digital divide, the development of DC’s Southwest Waterfront, and even, social media). I hope there are a few local residents that will take on NMAAHC’s success as a passion and over the next three years, post numerous photos and videos of the building’s development to their Flickr and YouTube pages to get folks outside the Beltway equally passionate about its success.

According to Walker and the other esteemed writers of her black cool homage, there are one thousand streams of blackness. Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites are not the sole avenues to increase NMAAHC’s black cool quotient, but they are essential tools. Let’s help bring all of these thousand streams together to elevate NMAAHC’s social media reach – starting tomorrow and beyond.

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