by Sabrina Guilbeault ’18
As part of Providence College’s celebration of Black History Month, multiple departments across campus, such as Student Affairs and the Office of Institutional Diversity, sponsored the return of the Black History 101 Mobile Museum, which was on display all day in the Slavin Fishbowl this Wednesday.
The museum features a collection by Khalid el-Hakim, a current doctoral student from the University of Illinois. After taking a sociology class in his undergraduate career, el-Hakim began to collect Jim Crow memorabilia in 1991 from flea markets, antique shops, and estate sales “From that point I’ve started to collect all I could that exhibits the black experience in America,” el-Hakim said.
With over 7,000 artifacts in his collection, el-Hakim explained he often develops themes each year that he brings with him to over 50 locations across 15 states. He explained that just the day before arriving at PC, he put on his exhibit at the FBI Academy in Virginia.
The artifacts are all authentic, and this year’s theme covers the 75th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. From a Sports Illustrated magazine dated May 22, 1967 with athlete Tommi Smith on the cover, to pins that say “Write in Dick Gregory for President,” or to the Newsweek cover from April 15, 1968 covering Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral, to a flyer made up by the Citizen’s Council of Greater New Orleans that reads “Help Save the Youth of America, Don’t Buy Negro Records,” el-Hakim has captured the experience of struggle that black people in the United States have always faced.
el-Hakim explained that Black History Month is necessary because the Black experience has not always been inclusive in the American narrative. He explained that stories have been silenced and omitted throughout history. “These artifacts can help spark honest conversations about race, identity, and where we are in current times,” he said.
“These original articles are the evidence that this history happened,” el-Hakim said. He explained that in a lot of ways what we hear in lectures about history (such as signs that say “whites only”) sounds so absurd that it is easy to think that these events did not happen. “It really sheds light on the absurdity of racism and white supremacy,” he said.
The tables with the artifacts were set up like a timeline, with artifacts from history that lined up in order to show what influenced what events. el-Hakim stated his favorite artifacts are the signed historical documents. In his collection, el-Hakim has documents signed by MLK, Malcom X, Muhammad Ali, Rosa Parks, and Frederick Douglass.
In his discussion of the museum, el-Hakim also shared why affirmations are so important. Starting at the earliest of his artifacts, the depictions made by white people of black people were unnecessarily exaggerated and unjust. “We say Black is Beautiful and Black is Power because these affirmations did not exist,” el-Hakim said. “We say Black Lives Matter because there has been a constant struggle of the oppressed and the oppressor involving social justice and liberation,” he said.
el-Hakim also explained that he loves when people who look at his collection are inspired to respond to it. What he is doing is activism, as the artifacts spark discussion. The question el-Hakim asks however is, “How do we sustain this conversation?”
Advice el-Hakim offers is to do self-check and reflect on your own relationships. “There needs to be authentic friendships and space where honest conversation can happen,” he said. “Let this be a starting point.”
“In this period of racial tension, you must ask yourself which side you want to be on when it comes to social justice,” el-Hakim said. “Be on the right side of history.”