Dear friends of HistoryMiami Museum,
I want to provide an update on the Museum as we navigate through these challenging times. The upcoming exhibition Embracing the Lens: The BlackFlorida Project will not be on display at the museum. Photographer, Johanne Rahaman, and curator, Dr. Jeffreen Hayes, requested to withdraw the exhibition, originally set to open in March before we were forced to close our doors due to Covid-19. We are saddened by their decision as we believe in their work and looked forward to sharing it. We wish them continued success in their endeavors.
During this time, the world has dealt with Covid-19 and shifted how we go through our daily lives. We are also in the midst of facing the continued murders of Black lives, anti- Black racism, immigration issues negatively affecting communities of color, and de-humanizing effects of institutionalized racism. From the beginning when museums came to be, we know that museums have caused harm and continue to do so, intentionally, and implicitly. Museums have excluded people from decision-making and left important voices out of exhibitions and publications.
We commit to being better at HistoryMiami Museum. In my time as the director of the museum, we have made progress in issues of diversity, equity, access, and inclusion. But as I told our staff, and our board, we aren’t done yet. This work will be ever evolving, because we will continually find areas of growth, and the needs of the community will be varied.
Following concerns and suggestions from photographer Johanne Rahaman and curator Dr. Jeffreen Hayes, along with conversations and meetings with local stakeholders, our Board of Trustees, and staff, we are committed to the following:
1. Henry Flagler Award – We will retire the Henry Flagler award we give to a community leader during our annual Flamingo Ball. Flagler built his railroad empire using forced Black labor practices, leasing African American incarcerated labor from the State, and had anti-Semitic beliefs. We have decided to rename it to reflect its intent – the HistoryMiami Museum Community Service Award.
2. Board Diversity – We do not have a diverse Board of Trustees. In Miami, we are not unique to this issue and commit to seeking collective solutions to address this deficit. We are working with our Trustees to create a more diverse board that better reflects the community we serve. Our new Chairman has begun conversations with the Trustees regarding his intent to implement new diversity guidelines and efforts, including: continuing to meet with Black community stakeholders and working on mechanisms to make board participation more accessible, having Trustees take part in anti-racism professional development beginning in September 2020, and implement board diversity guidelines by October 2020.
3. Anti-racism professional development for all staff, and contractual staff, beginning in September 2020. All full-time and part-time staff continue to be employed at the museum and will participate in the training.
4. Attracting and retaining Black staff members – We are committed to continuing to increase Black representation on our staff. While we have a diverse staff that includes Black, Asian, Latinx people with diverse lived experience, we are committed to increasing Black representation, particularly in positions of leadership.
5. Working with a community liaison, we will schedule a series of community listening circles to create space to hear directly from community stakeholders beginning in September 2020.
6. Based on community input, we will develop a Community Advisory Board by December 2020.
7. We will re-design our Tropical Dreams permanent exhibition to attend to the absences of Black individual stories and community contributions, such as Mariah Brown, a Black Bahamian settler who built one of the first homes in Coconut Grove. We will name what truths are missing and include the difficult and painful history with input and contributions from our community advisory board.
In all this named work, we have internal and external work that needs to be done and will be ever evolving. It is essential for us to be mindful about how and what we communicate and intentionally attend to authentic relationship building with our stakeholders and partners.
Museums should be truly of the people, by the people, and for the people. We renew our commitment to serving as your museum.
In good health,
Jorge Zamanillo, Executive Director
This document has been edited from a previous version to include that list of commitments was formed from concerns and suggestions from curator Dr. Jeffreen Hayes, Johanne Rahaman, and community stakeholders.