By Rev. Dr. Robert L. Jeffrey, Sr.
To begin my support of the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM), I want to start with my appreciation for its current President & CEO, Ms. LaNesha DeBardelaben. I know LaNesha to be an experienced museum administrator who, upon being recruited, has improved every aspect of the museum and has become a community leader. She is a woman of immense integrity, ability, credibility, and commitment to building a stronger Seattle. She is leading the museum to win results the museum has never seen before, engaging with the community, making a difference in people's lives, and facilitating a new strategic direction for the museum.
I was one of the first people LaNesha met when she arrived; I know that she has a big heart for this community. Though she was not born here, she calls our community home now, and is making NAAM a nationally-respected museum. She loves Black museums and every Black person young and old in our beloved Seattle community, and we are blessed to have her here in our city. Since she has been at the helm at NAAM, the museum has grown both its revenues and attendance, and she and the NAAM team have led dynamic new, award-winning programming that garnered the museum to be a national finalist for the National Medal for Museum Service award, oversaw curation of the museum’s award-winning 2019 exhibition about Seattle native world-acclaimed musical artist Jimi Hendrix, and she has created both the African American Cultural Ensemble (ACE) - the first regional choir organized by a Black museum and the local Black Education, History, and Heritage Alliance (BEHHA). The list of accomplishments under her leadership are countless. She and the NAAM team have organized nationally-renowned thought leaders to engage with our community such as professor Dr. Eddie Glaude, public intellectual Dr. Cornel West, presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett, diplomat Dr. Susan Rice, voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, and so many more. She is an organizer, a scholar, an administrator, a community-builder, a visionary, an essential piece to building a stronger community.
LaNesha is nationally known and respected as a visionary leader. Her national colleagues elected her as the National President of the Board of Directors of the Association of African American Museums (AAAM). LaNesha is only the sixth woman in history to hold this national position that leads the national network of Black museums across the country. She serves on other national boards and is a scholar, working on a PhD degree at the University of Washington's College of Education. She is involved in several local initiatives, including as the founding chair of New Hope's Community Development Institute board, establishing a new nonprofit aimed to make life better in and for the Central District in partnership with the church that I've pastored for 35 years. Her greatest accomplishment is not in her titles, education, or accolades. That's all secondary to her dedication to helping to make this community a strong, self-reliant, unified collective void of all kinds of senseless violence and police brutality. There are countless thousands of NAAM supporters who believe in and support her leadership.
The crisis now facing the museum, therefore, has entirely nothing to do with Ms. DeBardelaben, or her qualifications. This crisis also does not have anything to do with the fact that the Urban League owns the property, as has been attested to by the courts. This crisis is as made up, just as Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the fact that he lost a legitimately held election was made up. Like the Trump followers, there are those in this community who continue to believe a lie. While it is true that brave men and women took over
In conclusion, what is happening now is upsetting to me because it is just another attack by mostly Black men on the leadership of Black women. The organizations presently under attack are all led by Black women. The inference here that these women are selling out the community is both misogynistic and blatantly untrue. Therefore, it is my hope and prayer that we as a community can at long last move beyond the lies, and the myths, and continue the urgent need to work together to address the real issues of economic justice and access, that remain barriers to our legitimate community based economic empowerment. To do this, let’s get behind the visionary community leader directing the Northwest African American Museum.