Lonnie G. Bunch III is experiencing a watershed moment. On an unseasonably mild February day in the nation’s capital, he stands at the podium in a stadium-size tent on the National Mall addressing an audience of 600 business and political leaders, a group that includes the president of the United States and the first lady.
Bunch delivers his speech amid the momentous groundbreaking of the Smithsonian Institution’s $500 million National Museum of African American History and Culture—which has been six years in the making. “Today, we begin to make manifest on this Mall, on this sacred space, the dreams of many generations who fought for and believe there should be a site in the nation’s capital that will help all Americans remember and honor African American history and culture,” the 59-year-old founding director states. “But equally important to this vision was the need to make better all who visit the National Museum, by using African American culture as a lens to more clearly understand what it means to be an American.”
The NMAAHC is arguably the largest philanthropic effort in history driven by African Americans, complete with a five-star advisory council that includes former Citigroup Chairman Richard D. Parsons, American Express CEO Kenneth I. Chenault, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, billionaire dealmaker Robert L. Johnson, and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Bunch’s mission includes raising $250 million in donations from corporations, foundations, and individuals—which the NMAAHC is already closing in on—and mining the world for artifacts that will represent the “wide arc of history—slavery, Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Migrations to the North and West, segregation, the civil rights movement and beyond, including issues of the 21st century.”
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