All posts in “Equity Team”

Migration Stories: Pam McClusky

I migrated twice before I was 20. When I was 11, my brother and I got on a plane to meet our mother in Liberia, West Africa. She had worked for Peace Corps, but now had a job with a San Francisco State University team to set up schools. She found a house for us in a place known as Sunken Heights. Liberians always laughed when you said you lived there. They had watched Americans come in, not ask many questions, and begin building houses in the dry season—not realizing the ground was part of a swamp. All the houses sank lower and lower every year. Ours was at the end of the block, closest to the deepest swamp where wild creatures seemed to party hard every night. My first morning, I woke up in a room with bars across the windows that were overgrown with vines. As the sun rose, the vines seemed to move. I walked over to look carefully and realized that snakes were twisting around in the vines and using the bars as a gym for their morning workout. This was their house too. We soon got someone skilled with a machete to cut away the vines and encourage the snakes to move on.

We learned to adore living differently. There was almost no TV, but there were masquerades. There were no concerts, but ceremonies at dawn. I came to savor rice with hot sauce, fried plantains, and tonal languages. We had no father there, so my mother hired a man who became our guardian. He happened to be a zo, or traditional spiritual leader, so our house was the counseling center for the community. The only fights I ever saw were on the soccer field. Our school was international, and one of my heroes was a tall mysterious Swedish ballet teacher who drove a convertible red sports car and gave us cold bottles of Coca-Cola to drink after every class. Vacations took us to other parts of Africa, including a spring in Kenya where a viewing window allowed us to watch hippos swimming underwater.

After nearly five years, we returned to San Francisco. Walking into a public high school was one of the worst experiences of my life. I went to stand in line and was pushed into another line. When I tried to talk to other students, they were the wrong students. When I went into the bathroom, I got beat up and had all my jewelry torn off. Someone said a rumor was circulating that I was retarded. I began to internalize this misguided insult, most of all at PE, when teachers gave me a horrible blue jumper to wear, ushered me out onto a concrete playground, and handed me a bat. I had no idea what to do with it, thereby perpetuating my peers’ taunts. Lunch was a nightmare. I hid in the library as eruptions were heard coming from the cafeteria. There were reports of razor blade attacks, and a student waved a sawed off shotgun in my face, then hid it in his jacket. I finally began to realize that everyone was organized by the color of their skin and I was in the middle of a daily battle over issues I had no clue about. Classes also had conflicts. One day, the English teacher began reading a story I had written and made fun of it as being an example of someone going too far with their imagination. Several students turned to look at me, grinned, and did the sign of being cuckoo. When the class was over, I walked out and wished I had that bat so I could hit the walls.

I decided to go see my mom at the University and explain why I had to drop out of high school. She was assistant to the President of San Francisco State University and I found her office surrounded by police in full riot gear. The President, S.I. Hayakawa, had become the target of a student protest movement led by the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). I saw a tin that we had filled with chocolate chip cookies the night before for my mom’s co-workers. Now it was marked “evidence” as it held the makings of a bomb left in the hallway. We saw the tin on the news that night, and then a report on the high school riots. I argued that it made no sense to live in America anymore and urged us to find a way to return to Africa as soon as possible.

Forever after, whenever people speak harshly about violence in other cultures (particularly Africa), I pause to remember these days. No one has the copyright on disasters and destructive behavior. When Americans speak of equity and diversity as ideals to strive for, I think about how the entire world is in need of as much equity as is humanly possible. Diversity to me requires looking at the big picture with people from more than America. If we don’t, we run the risk of building more Sunken Heights, where we sink into a swamp filled with more slithering creatures than we know how to handle and eternal difficulties in getting along with each other.

–Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art

Inspired by Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, Seattle Art Museum’s Equity Team and staff is sharing personal stories of immigration, migration, displacement, and community. We hope this blog series inspires you to consider how your own perspective and history relates to the works on view in Jacob Lawrence’s artwork. See The Migration Series before it closes April 23 to begin gaining the bigger picture that Pam discusses in her Migration Story.

Image: “My brother Duncan, myself and Fostino in Kenya”, Courtesy of Pam McClusky.

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Migration Stories: Lindsey Dabek

Long Story Short…

In the beginning
somewhere in time
In the fields
In the mountains
In the jungle
In the vineyard
There they were
The Polish ones, they came through Ellis Island
Looking for a new life
Foreign? Not foreign . . .
Jewish? Not Jewish . . . (Jewish)
Through NY to the mid-west
Saginaw, Traverse City, Ann Arbor
The light ones were here already, somehow
Didn’t remember the roots quite right
Norse or something like it.

Meanwhile in Peru
An intelligent engineer, a dark man
An Indian
A missionary from the Canary Islands
PUERTO RICO!!!
To NY
SAN JUAN!!!
To NY
Corsica, Spain, Italy
To NY
EVERYBODY!!!
Little girl . . . your mom was HOW old?
You had HOW many brothers and sisters?

My mom – NY
1960s to Cali
My dad – MI
1960s to Cali
LOS ANGELES!!!
Music – people – love – not – war
Two smart young people with the dream of making a family
Dream of peaceful trees and quiet home
Dream of music and art
Dream of computers and education
1970s to Seattle
THIS was it
Trees – house – dog – kids – family – yard
Work . . . work . . . work
THIS was it.
My brother
Me
1980s West Seattle
Our block . . . us
Together on the street
Bikes – games – yards – cats – dogs
Constantly moving, yet in one place
Work . . . work . . . PLAY
Mom and Dad
what they never had,
they gave to US.

My home
Seattle
Since the day I was born
My only home.
Still is as long as I can stick it out
Can’t price me out yet
Can’t push me south
THIS is home.
My only home.
Through me,
they all came here, together
I’m still watching for the ancestors on the shores of Lincoln Park,
Waiting to see the rainbow
Waiting for the Sun Dog
as the eagles play in the breeze.

No sir,
I’m not going anywhere.

–Lindsey Dabek, SAM Shop Manager

Inspired by Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, Seattle Art Museum’s Equity Team and staff is sharing personal stories of immigration, migration, displacement, and community. Enjoy this blog series? Hear more stories in person from local legends and how their perspectives relate to the works on view in Jacob Lawrence’s artwork during Migration Stories events on the first and second Thursdays at Seattle Art Museum through April. 

Photos: Courtesy of Lindsey Dabek
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Envisioning Equity: Migration Stories

SAM’s Equity Team has a vision: an inclusive museum where everyone can connect art to their lives in a welcoming and accessible way. Since early 2016, SAM has participated in the City of Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative. A key outcome of this has been our Equity Team, formed in connection with “Turning Commitment into Action”—a multi-day training program for arts administrators examining historic racial disparities in our region and discussing ways to build racial equity.

“I’m excited about SAM’s commitment to prioritize time, resources, and support to build an equitable future here. The team’s contributions are essential to creating better access for our communities and fostering permanent change,” says Priya Frank, Associate Director for Community Programs and chair of the Equity Team.

SAM’s Director and CEO, Kim Rorschach agrees. “The team helps steer the museum towards the important work of inclusivity and considering equity in all our decisions. This progress will help us develop a more diverse audience that is representative of our region and remove barriers to entry.” Informed by feedback from mandatory all-staff racial equity trainings, SAM’s Racial Equity Plan was drafted. The team now acts as stewards of this larger vision to reach equity across all aspects of the museum. This includes examining artistic and educational programming, visitor experiences, recruiting practices, as well as staff development and career growth opportunities.

Although the museum recognizes that permanent change takes time and investment, initial changes are noticeable. Curatorial Coordinator Jenae Williams says, “The most tangible impact so far is the thoughtful consideration I overhear in meetings on installation planning or education programs.” This year the Equity Team organized free gallery tours focused on race and social justice, launched a new internship program for historically underrepresented participants, and created a book club inviting SAM staff to read The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, a nonfiction work about the Great Migration in which African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and settled in northern American cities. The book club examined this historical event and increased staff familiarity with Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, on view downtown through April 23. “We organize internal events for staff to engage in equity-related conversations and emphasize how central equity is to all of our work, regardless of what department a person works in.” says Marcus Ramirez, Coordinator for Education and Public Programs.

The Migration Series exhibition is one example of integrating the Team’s strategic vision into SAM’s programming. Offering our Three-Day Free Day event over the opening weekend of the exhibition is another way we increased access to the entire community. SAM’s efforts as an advocate for Cultural Access Washington (CAWA) are also supported by our equity work. If approved in a future county-wide referendum, CAWA funding will help the museum offer additional free days and more educational programs accessible to all. As Jenny Woods, Manager of Volunteer Programs, says, “There is not one magic thing we can do to change the demographics of SAM, but the efforts of the museum within national conversations on equity will bring change.”

Over the next month SAM staff will be sharing stories from their personal and family history of immigration, migration, displacement, and community in a series called Migration Stories for the SAM Blog. Stay tuned for photos, quotes, creative writing, and interviews that will inspire thought on history and the figure of the migrant throughout time and in our contemporary moment.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter & Content Strategist

Photo: Natali Wiseman
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