Image matters to Lamont Collins. Especially now that Louisville and the nation are embroiled in a social justice movement.
What people see — not only in one another but in themselves — can have a significant impact on how the world interprets the Black experience, he said.
“I know our kids need something more to look at than what we see now,” Collins said.
That’s why mirrors grace each floor of Roots 101, an African American Museum on Museum Row in downtown Louisville that Collins, a Louisville native and former University of Louisville football player, founded.
He wants people to look into these mirrors after they’ve walked through the exhibits and take self-inventory. He wants them to challenge what they believe about themselves or others and find the truth in the exhibit’s stories. He wants people to truly see who Black people are: descendants of kings and queens, not slaves, not inferior, he says.
But Collins needs funding to open the doors to a museum he calls a “healing place” for the community, one he says is needed now more than ever.
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Roots 101, which was supposed to open in February at 819 W. Main St., has all the money it needs for exhibits and artifacts, but the coronavirus pandemic hit the museum hard. Collins is hoping corporate sponsors will step up to help with operations costsso the museum can open its doors.
Until that time, Collins will lead fundraising tours and has set a GoFundMe goal of $75,000 — roughly $21,000 of which has already been secured.
When Roots 101 opens, its goal will be to help visitors unpack stereotypes and face the ugly sides of our country’s past that are often swept under the rug, Collins said. The exhibits will address some of the inaccuracies taught in school about Black history and combat inaccurate portrayals of African Americans.
Collins said rewriting the oft white-washed narrative of American history will help reframe the notion of white supremacy.
“Images matters, and that’s why the museum came about,” Collins said. “I knew it was a hard lift when I did it, but it’s a lift I’ve always wanted to do because history matters. Legacies matter. Knowing where we come from matters.”
For decades, Collins has been collecting artifacts that capture the Black experience, from slave chains to the firearm Harriet Tubman wielded en route to leading masses to freedom. Through this, he hopes to tell the story of the African diaspora and its influence in America.
Collins said the museum could open by December if finances are in place, but sees no point in running the museum if COVID-19 restrictions only allow it to operate at 15-20% capacity.
“It’s not a big-budget item to run here,” Collins said. “It’s just that we are so far behind now. It’s a tightrope between telling people we need money — you don’t want to sound desperate, but you need to be able to say ‘this is just business.’”
Nonetheless, he can’t wait for visitors to see the Afrocentric collections.
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On Floor 2, for example, is an exhibit called “Benin to Brooklyn” (1800-1964). It showcases African culture before the slave trade and displays artifacts ranging from tribal objects to blackface posters. But it also captures the essence of the Great Migration that took many African Americans to northern cities such as Brooklyn in pursuit of a better life.
Other spaces in the museum are dedicated to African American music in Kentucky, the history of Black jockeys, and the legacy of protests.
Collins thinks about how Roots 101 will be responsible for capturing the history of a national social justice movement and one day telling the story of Breonna Taylor and what it meant for Louisville.
This reminds him of “the purpose and vision,” of the place, he said.
Since February, Collins has welcomed special visitors such as Nick Cannon, held private tours for groups such as Until Freedom and hosted the FBI team investigating Breonna Taylor’s case in September.
To give the museum additional exposure, Collins has partnered with Louisville Tourism.
“What makes the museum unique for us?” Rosanne Mastin, marketing communications manager for Louisville Tourism said. “The fact that this is able to help us unearth some new storytelling for the city and for aspects of the city that people didn’t know. They may not have known what some of the African American cultural influences have been, but maybe they will get a chance to see that after visiting the museum.”
Today, when Collins walks through the museum, it would be easy for him to focus on the museum’s delay. But when he passes the mirrors, he is reminded of the patience of his people and understands the strength of their journey.
“When you come here you get the history of what we are,” Collins said. “Now, we can sit down and have a conversation because now I have value. White America has been brought up thinking they are the only ones that had value in America. … But this museum tells you, ‘No, we have contributed to this America just like you.’ So, let’s have a conversation on contribution and how we can work together.
“That’s how it’s a healing space.”
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Roots 101 African-American Museum
Roots 101 African-American Museum at 819 W. Main St., in downtown Louisville, tells the story of the African diaspora and its influence in every pocket of American culture. More funding is needed to open the museum, so founder Lamont Collins has started a GoFundMe account. For details, visit gofundme.com.
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