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Conversations With Debra Lee, Amy Sherald, Deborah Willis, and Bisa Butler Headline NMAAHC Women’s History Month Celebrations

Gaby M. Rojas

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture’s (NMAAHC) March programming features events with prominent Black women in the arts and entertainment industry. To kick off the month, businesswoman and former chairman and CEO of BET Debra Lee discuss the joys and challenges of being a Black woman executive in the entertainment industry in a conversation about her new memoir, I Am Debra Lee. The museum will also host a dialogue featuring artists Deborah Willis, Amy Sherald and Bisa Butler centering on portraiture of African American women and social justice.

Later in the month, the museum will debut a major, thought-provoking new exhibition, “Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures,” on March 24. Investigating Afrofuturist expression through art, music, activism and more, this exhibition explores and reveals Afrofuturism’s historic and poignant engagement with African American history and popular culture. From the enslaved looking to the cosmos for freedom to popular sci-fi stories inspiring Black astronauts, to the musical influence of Sun Ra, OutKast, P-Funk, and more, this exhibition covers the broad and impactful spectrum of Afrofuturism.

“Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures” will be on view in the museum’s Bank of America Special Exhibitions Gallery from March 24 through March 24, 2024. For more details about the new exhibition and to sign up for additional updates, the public can visit the museum’s Afrofuturism website.

Other programming in March includes History Alive!: Tuskegee Airmen: African American Aviators During World War II as told by living-history interpreter John McCaskill, a Spring STEM Teacher Workshop: Contributions in Agriculture led by STEM Education Specialist Christopher Williams and a virtual cooking demonstration and conversation with Chef Jonny Rhodes.

Highlights of March Programs

Historically Speaking: I Am Debra Lee

Friday, March 10; 7 p.m. ET (Oprah Winfrey Theater + streaming)

In her recent memoir, Debra Lee explores the joys and challenges of being a high-powered Black woman executive in the entertainment industry. As the woman who brought television shows like The Game and Being Mary Jane to cable television, Lee has been  responsible for elevating Black images and storytelling for decades. In I Am Debra Lee, the author shares her own story in an intimate and eye-opening tale about her career in entertainment. Michel Martin, weekend host of NPR’s All Things Considered, will moderate the conversation. Signed books will be available for sale courtesy of Smithsonian Enterprises. Admission is free; however, registration is required.

The Simmons Talks: Portraiture at the Intersection of Art and History: A Conversation Between Deborah Willis, Amy Sherald and Bisa Butler

Thursday, March 16; 7 p.m. ET (Oprah Winfrey Theater + streaming)

During the inaugural program speakers’ series, “The Simmons Talks,” endowed by Ruth Simmons, Ph.D., NMAAHC council member and current president of Prairie View A&M University, NMAAHC will host a dialogue centering portraiture, African American women and social justice. Renowned scholar and artist Deborah Willis leads a discussion with Amy Sherald and Bisa Butler and their moving works recently on view in the NMAAHC exhibition “Reckoning: Protest. Defiance. Resilience.” Admission is free; however, registration is required.

Spring STEM Teacher Workshop: Contributions in Agriculture

Saturday, March 25; 9 a.m.–2 p.m. (second-floor classrooms)

NMAAHC invites all interested third–eighth-grade educators to register for a half-day, in-person workshop led by NMAAHC STEM Education Specialist Christopher Williams. Participants will learn about the agricultural contributions of African Americans and discover the inventions and strategies they used to produce food for themselves and their communities. Participants will explore NMAAHC’s collections, discover the history of rice cultivation in the United States, engage in STEM activities for the classroom and understand the ways African American farmers continue to reclaim their place in the agricultural world. Those who complete the workshop will be eligible to receive five hours of teacher professional development credit. Admission is free; however, registration is required.

History Alive!: Tuskegee Airmen: African American Aviators During World War II

Saturday, March 25; 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 1 p.m.

(Colin Powell Double Victory: The African American Military Gallery)

The Tuskegee Airmen were African American aviators who earned the right to fly combat during World War II. The Tuskegee Experience encompassed more than just the pilots—some were Caucasian and some were women. Visitors can learn about their experiences, their legacy and why their story is important today. John McCaskill, NMAAHC’s living-history interpreter, shares how those engaged in the military made their service useful not only for the good of their country, but also to benefit their personal lives and their community.

Virtual Cooking Demo and Conversation With Chef Jonny Rhodes

Saturday, March 25, 12:30 – 2:30 p.m. ET (Streaming)

The public can virtually join Chef Jonny Rhodes of Food Fight Farms and Broham Soul Food & Groceries and Ashley Young, Ph.D., historian of the American Food History Project at the NMAAHC, for a cooking demonstration and lively discussion about the stories food can tell of how communities intersected in the past. Rhodes is heavily influenced by the history of his hometown of Houston and has made it his mission to bring awareness to past injustices and how African Americans can be better equipped to live a self-sustaining lifestyle.  Food Fight Farms grows fresh produce with the specific intent of processing those goods into shelf-stable foods. The menu will showcase items that have been grown from seed and manufactured into products such as pickles, preserves, condiments and more. Registration is $20 and meal kit ingredients will be shipped frozen overnight to participants.

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