September 24th, 2016 was a day I looked forward to since summer 2015 when I first saw the corona structure pop up in the mall. I knew I had to be at the opening ceremony…somehow. Little did I know then, I would be living in DC and be able to have all the access I needed. The morning the tickets launched online I had three alarm clocks set and my browser windows ready to catch some tickets for the opening day.
Seeing the museum turned out to be only part of the day. I arrived early in the morning to sit on the National Mall and wait to see Oprah and Obama, whom I knew would be there. To my surprise, I was also able to see a plethora of other delegates and celebrities. As soon as they opened the ceremony with “Lean on Me” I was hooked. This is what ‘little girl me’ had been looking for all those years ago. This was our time, my time. Part of my soul rejoiced.
After the opening ceremony was finished, most of the National Mall around the monument was jam packed with people. My aunt and I went to get some po’boys and then walk around at some of the other stages and events during the weekend-long festival.
After exploring the festival we met up with my friends, the Hasbrouks, and found our way to the line for entry. A brief 2 hours later we were in the museum. Luckily the weather was cool the entire morning and the wait wasn’t too painful, but by the time we entered our patience was for sure in deficit. Walking in was like redemption and my aunt and I headed to the beginning…or to the lowest level of the museum where the African American journey began, the slave trade.
As we ascended each level, working our way chronologically to the present, where so many things about the design I loved. The museum is walkable, matching the slogan of, ‘a people’s journey’. In between each level is a small theatre viewing area that previews/recaps the dates you are in between. There are so many nooks and crannies of information. There are also many interactive areas, so I’m not sure if anyone (any age) could ever be bored.
By far the best part of the experience was to see your history. The displays about the places I’ve lived in Florida, the countries I’ve visited and their role in the slave trade, the politicians we’ve met who have actually made a difference. To actually see my history face to face was something I’ve never experienced. It was special.
The trap of the museum is the people who are in there with you. The ones who know the history and the ones who don’t. This visit was special because of the dialogue between both groups. It was so easy to get caught up in someone pointing to a picture of their family member in the museum and sharing their story. Or hearing about how someone was in the march that they had on a television. Hearing people asking the one’s who have experienced [it], how it changed the course of the civil rights movement. It was easy to get stuck in this museum…for a long time.
Our first trip lasted from about 5:15pm to 8pm when they closed the museum for the evening function. We were able to finish the timeline with some quick perusing, only deciding to avoid Emmit Till’s casket along with a theater showing and the long lines that followed them. There was only one section in the ‘Our Culture’ floor that we missed due lack to time. We also did not get to sample the southern cuisine in Sweet Baby’s Cafe (surprise, it had a line too).
With that said, I can’t wait until my next visit. I want to spend the time walking through the museum as a woman, as a southerner, as a Bible-belt southern Baptist, as a social activist, and as board member of a museum myself. On opening day I just enjoyed it as Nathalie, a little girl who finally saw all those things her parents taught her, all together.
**As you may know advance (free) tickets are required to visit the museum. If you did not get tickets through March 2017, there are daily tickets available but you have be present at the ticket office at 9:15am and you will only be allotted 4 tickets maximum. If you are in the area, its worth your time.**