Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” For Shekina Dellmar Donaldson, black achievements matter.
For the past 10 years, she has been fighting to make every month Black History Month. Armed with an African-American traveling exhibit and a 40-foot-long bus — a mobile museum — Donaldson has been touring the country to spread the word on the countless black philanthropists, inventors, soldiers, and founders of America through Kinad, her non-profit organization.
“Despite the 1994 Florida State Legislative mandate, textbooks have not yet fully integrated black history into standard told history,” she said of an amended statute that requires Florida's public schools to include the history of African Americans, including "the history of African peoples, the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery, the passage to America, the enslavement experience, abolition, and the contributions of African Americans to society.”
The former drafter at BellSouth said, “Blacks need to stick together [because] leaders do not always look after our interests.”
Donaldson,54, lives in Miami Gardens with husband Baswell Donaldson, 56, a graphic designer who helps her keep adding to the more than 400 displays in the traveling units.
Kinad’s 10,000-square-foot traveling exhibit is a bus equipped with visual images of black historical figures such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Michael Jackson, abolitionist Harriet Tubman and the black nationalist Marcus Garvey, as well as Malcolm X.
It also honors lesser-known black achievers such as pioneer Lewis Howard Latimer, who was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his work with Thomas Edison in producing long-lasting carbon filaments for electric bulb lights.
Visitors are invited to tour the bus chronologically as the timeline goes back into ancient Africa and its heritage.
“We want blacks to understand that their ancestors played major roles in shaping America,” said Donaldson. “We are a valiant people and have made many contributions.
There’s no reason why we should dwell in the horrors of slavery.”
Kinad’s African-American mobile museum is also information-packed, providing an on-site field trip for schools that pairs visual displays and videos. According to Donaldson, since 2000, the bus has traveled to 435 locations and more than 500,000 people have viewed it.
In 2004, Kinad’s traveling display made its second appearance at the rotunda of the State Capitol in Tallahassee, where then-Gov. Jeb Bush and other officials visited the exhibition. That same year, the organization’s efforts were recognized by the Miami-Dade County Black Affairs Advisory Board with the Pillars Award for community service. It was also presented with a key to Miami-Dade County and a proclamation from the Miami-Dade County School Board.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who sponsored the project for several years and worked with the public transit system on the restoration and donation of the bus Donaldson uses, says Kinad’s work offers a more comprehensive and effective presentation of black history than most textbooks.
“Besides spreading the word on black history with taste, grace and quality, they engage the children by making learning fun,” Jordan said.
But in order to keep the show on the road, Donaldson said she is now on a mission to find a sponsor, as funds have been harder to come by with the recent economic downturn. She keeps applying for grants, but says that time spent competing for them “takes away from the mission.”
Beyond keeping black history alive, Donaldson says the organization’s broader concern is to help raise children’s self-esteem, especially those at risk of academic failure.
“My reading scores once were very low,” she said. “What I try to communicate to the kids is that if I did it, so can they. Nowadays you can start your own company, with $250, create your own job. We are no longer slaves.”
To further reach out to urban children, Donaldson has also incorporated services for delinquency prevention. Her visits to schools include anti-bullying presentations, a question-and-answer section on anxiety, fears and phobias, and educational materials that enhance literacy.
Sherrilyn Scott, curriculum and instruction supervisor for the Division of Social Sciences and Life Skills at Miami-Dade County Public Schools, said that Kinad makes a difference because raising children’s awareness of their cultural heritage helps keep them interested in school in the long run.
“It is uplifting to learn that we come from a nation that is wealthy not only monetarily, but historically.”
To learn more about Kinad’s African-American history exhibition and mobile museum visit kinad.com.