Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Week 45: Power to the People


In my 33rd week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I had a serious conversation with Larry about the end of the fellowship, managed volunteer projects, and provided support for the Black Panther Party Alumni Society event at the museum.

When I came to work on Tuesday, Larry and I sat down and discussed what I could completely finish before the end of the fellowship. I thought that I was doing a good job with managing my time and being willing to do whatever was in my power to make sure that I finished everything in time. Our conversation let me know that the items that were the most pressing to me were not necessarily the most pressing for the museum. For example, I thought that I should endeavor to get complete physical control of all of the materials that represent Mayme’s papers, but Larry convinced me that providing access to what has been identified (through spreadsheets) and finishing the front matter of the finding aid would be a better use of time. We also identified five other collections that were in various stages of completion for me to finish by the end of May. I think that the goal is pretty ambitious but processing collections is very intuitive to me, so there is nothing to it but to do it.

Armed with my new directives, I sought volunteers to help me to reach my goals. Although it has been obvious throughout the duration of this fellowship, managing people is one of the most difficult things to do; throw in some well-meaning volunteers that have no experience and this fellow surely has her hands full. Now that Mayme’s Papers have been identified as a series in Mayme’s enormous collection, the accession numbers and collection name information needs to be changed for every folder that we have made so far. The other change is that some folders need to be put in other series with their corresponding titles and numbers. I explained it to two of my favorite volunteers and left them to get the work done. One had entered the information into the database correctly but did not change the information on the folder, after I explained her mistake and gave her the next box to work on I found that with those files she had labeled each folder with the wrong accession number. I am planning to explain the process better in the future, and check in more frequently. I am scheduling time to go back and fix the errors in these boxes which I figured would be more appropriate than making the volunteer go over her work again. Since cloning myself is not an option and there is no way for me to get through all of that data entry by myself, I am determined to get us all flying on the same wavelength.

On Sunday, the museum welcomed the Black Panther Alumni Association and one hundred of their closest friends and allies for a program. The event included a screening of the film, “41st and Central”, a panel discussion from the Panthers that are featured in the film, and a keynote address from Kathleen Cleaver. The event was complete with art and incense vendors, as well as a drum circle. We had plenty of volunteers to run the check in and direct people throughout the museum, so I was pretty much free to enjoy the program. Our artist in residence, Gregory Everett, directed the film and he had loaned me a copy of it a couple of months ago when I was talking with him about the Black Power exhibit at the museum. I slipped in at the end of the panel discussion where the last comment was about how the struggle was very much alive and we should support the soldiers on the front lines. There was a quick break and then Kathleen Cleaver walked to the podium and made her comments. Mrs. Cleaver is a lawyer, a professor and the former wife of Black Panther Party leader, Eldridge Cleaver. I was impressed with how at ease she was speaking in front this crowd. Her notes seemed to be bullet points scrawled out on a legal pad, she paused and looked to them every so often but her words seemed to flow directly from her memory of events in her life. She talked fervently about young people, Algeria, and the FBI. Mrs. Cleaver kept referring to herself and the rest of her peers as senior citizens and they needed young people to continue the fight for black liberation. There were plenty of current members of the Black Panther Party dressed in black and throwing up their fists whenever they heard something that they liked. Other highlights were Larry taking on the role of auctioneer for the signed reproductions of the former minister of culture from the Black Panther Party, artist Emory Douglas, and a brief appearance from the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Overall the event was a huge success for the museum and I am eager to learn more about the international strands of the movement, after Mrs. Cleaver’s comments.
    

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