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On a recent Friday night in New York City, young professionals gathered to learn about and support the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Approximately 150 people responded to an invitation from Derrick Diggs and Rashida La Lande, members of the NMAAHC Ambassadors Program.
The Ambassadors Program looks to young professionals in their 30s and 40s to spread the word about NMAAHC. They are an important gateway to their peers who are curious about the museum, who want to be supporters and be involved in making sure the dreams of decades come true.
"What excited them about being involved is that supporting the museum is actually a national movement and they could be part of it. It is not just a museum about African Americans but how African American history has affected American history," said Tasha Coleman, the museum's senior manager of donor and board relations. Coleman, who has worked at the future museum since its inception, organized the Ambassadors last year.
At its heart, the Ambassadors program is about making connections in the community, and that's exactly what Diggs and La Lande were doing at the New York City gathering. Joel Limerick, co-chair of the Ambassadors, knew Derrick Diggs from Morehouse College. La Lande is a partner at the law firm that offered the space for the reception.
Both Diggs and La Lande wanted their colleagues to be part of history. "There is a sense of urgency, if you want to get in on the ground floor you have to contribute now," said Diggs. The checkbook is an important part of involvement, all organizers know. La Lande seconded that, "I would ask potential Ambassadors if they wanted to be a part of something that was so big," she said. The Ambassadors, she said, would be putting "a stamp on the future."
Limerick was pleased with this outing and outreach. "There was an element of a reunion. A lot of people hadn’t seen each other in a while. But there was an overriding sense of purpose that this was once in a lifetime. This was a change for us in real time to be a part of something that generations after us will thank us for our involvement."
A little over a year ago the groundbreaking for the museum's site was conducted with President Obama, former First Lady Laura Bush, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and other dignitaries. The New York audience was shown a video about that event and another of interviews with founding donors and the museum's council members. They also heard in person from Kinshasha Holman Conwill, the museum's deputy director, who discussed how the stories from New York, Texas, Georgia and all points of the African American experience would be included.
NMAAHC, currently under construction across a sloped hill from the Washington Monument, is scheduled to open in late 2015. The desire to support the project was palpable in New York that night. "We had people sign up on the spot. That is very telling," said Coleman.
Rashida La Lande and Derrick Diggs host a
New York gathering of young professionals.
Guests get a close look at some of the
benefits of being an Ambassador.
Guests respond to a dazzling
computer-generated film of the museum.
Guests gather in New York for a
NMAAHC Ambassadors reception.
Photos by Chester Higgins Jr.