As we look back on a very challenging year, it is clear that community is more important than ever. Neighborhood institutions stepped up to the challenge of serving their communities through what is being called a “double pandemic,” referencing both the COVID-19 virus and the racial inequity in health and financial outcomes that continue to plague our nation. Of these institutions, we celebrate a few of the many community treasures that are preserving Black history, providing invaluable education and hope for a brighter future.
Chicago, DuSable Museum of African American History
In Chicago, the DuSable Museum of African American History, the oldest independent African American history museum in the nation, is celebrating its 60th year. To kick off the celebrations, it is introducing a year-long program titled, “Every Month is Black History Month.” The campaign is meant to inspire people to not limit their curiosity and learning to just Black History Month.
To DuSable Museum President and CEO Perri Irmer, education is the cure to the lack of empathy that we are still seeing the effects of to this day.
“In order to learn from the past, you have to open your eyes to all of the facts. Because Black history curriculum has been so minimized and written by others as opposed to those who have experienced it, we’re suffering the consequences of that lack of awareness, knowledge and understanding now. We haven’t had a complete education.”
Providing that complete education is just what the DuSable Museum of African American History is attempting to do. Despite closures due to the pandemic, the museum has offered online tours, webcasts, remote learning opportunities and socially distanced performances to ensure these stories are still being told.
PNC has helped enrich these thought-provoking, socially-relevant experiences through over $500,000 in philanthropic contributions to the museum as well as through advocacy. Most recently, PNC helped DuSable visitors of all ages experience “The March” a virtual remake of Martin Luther King’s 1963 march on Washington.
African American history and American history are inseparable. You can’t unweave the cloth. You can’t tell one story without the other.
—Perri Irmer, President and CEO, DuSable Museum.
Cleveland, Karamu House
The Karamu House, America’s oldest producing Black theatre, was originally founded as a settlement house, an institution providing educational and social services to the community. It served as a common ground for people of different races, religions and social and economic backgrounds to come together to seek and share common ventures. Now for almost 106 years, Karamu House supports the local community by activating its mission to produce professional theatre, provide arts education and present community programs for all people while honoring the African American experience. Tony F. Sias, President and CEO of the Karamu House, described how that experience is often misunderstood or left out of history entirely.
“When we understand who has been left out of the conversation and the consequences of their exclusion, we can draw a straight line toward solutions to include them moving forward. Thus, the preservation of true history advances racial equity for all,” said Sias.
PNC is a proud partner and supporter of Karamu House, from our sponsorship of the theatre series and support of its arts education program, to a partnership with the PNC Fairfax Connection. As partners, we can serve more individuals in the community and reach larger audiences to create greater impact.
Greater Washington, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
In 2019, PNC donated $1 million to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a Smithsonian museum that seeks to understand American history through the lens of the African American experience. While the donation is designed to cover operational costs over five years, for PNC the partnership is much more meaningful.
“Given the relatively short life of the Museum, their presence and reach are setting a new standard for meeting the deep demand to reconcile American history with the realities that have faced the American people," Richard Bynum, PNC Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer, said of the partnership. Bynum also serves on the corporate council for the museum.
Even in the challenges of the pandemic, the museum found its voice to be a sought-after, healing resource. Their Talking about Race initiative, a new portal dedicated to providing tools and guidance to inspire conversation about race, gave parents, educators and others a foundation to learn, reflect and move forward. The Museum has also been doing what historians do: documenting the marches and rallies that shaped the country’s discourse around racial injustice, leading courageous conversations through virtual summits, and placing the recent historic election year in the greater historical context of the struggle for voting rights and political representation.
“Whatever your background, whatever your ethnicity, this is an American story about people who have persevered through trials and hardships and whose story has become, in many cases, the culture of America," says Bynum.
Creating a better future through education
These museums and community institutions provide a lens from which we can evaluate issues that will shape or inform our future. That future has long been a focus for PNC – for our employees, communities and shareholders.
“While we may be approaching our work with a more deliberate focus on the Black community, diversity, equity and inclusion is not new to PNC. It has long been at the heart of how we run our business and has guided our efforts around economic empowerment,” says Bynum.
Learn more about how PNC is celebrating the preservation of Black history through events and sponsorships in our communities.