The story behind a recent photograph of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, by Rod A. Hill
On a few, rare occasions, inspiration comes to me when I wake up. Last Christmas morning was one of those days. I woke up at five a.m. with the thought, “I should go out and look for something beautiful to photograph.” As I put on my clothes and returned a timid smile to the “Are you crazy?” look from my sweetheart who was now also wide awake, I wondered what exceptional “beauty” I would find in the city on Christmas morning.
“The National Tree,” I thought, and so it was there I went. As I turned onto Constitution Ave. from 17th Street, it was clear this was not my goal, as the tree lights were off (Really? On Christmas morning?). As I continued on Constitution, the lights from inside the National Museum of African American History and Culture caught my eye. I wondered if this was the subject of beauty I was seeking.
I had never really noticed it at night. The light shining from within was truly breathtaking. As the southeastern sky was just beginning to reveal the light of dawn, I was mesmerized by the soft glowing light from inside the museum, surrounded in nearly complete darkness. I parked my car and began walking around the building, really taking it in from all angles. There was virtually no traffic around, so I was able to walk in the street and take in the experience without interruption.
As the dawn was breaking, the faint clouds above became more pronounced, radiating shades of red and pink colors I can only attribute to the ambient light reflecting from below blending with sunrise. My heart began swelling with emotion the more I connected with what I was seeing and feeling. And I recalled my recent visit to the museum, and the dozens of emotions I experienced seemingly all at once as I walked through the history of the plight and accomplishments of my people.
When I walked around and faced the building from the southeast side, the message I wanted to convey became crystal clear. Despite the darkness of the past, the Light and Spirit of the African American people continue to shine brightly. In that Light and Spirit, we celebrate: our growth, driven by our trials; our ancestors; our families; and the countless contributions we have made to this great nation.
I believe it is in the brilliance of this Light that African Americans understand the importance of equality for all citizens. It is in this Spirit that we find the courage and strength to stand firm in our commitment to achieve true, lasting freedom and equality for all Americans. For genuine greatness is not measured merely by the wealth and power of a nation’s few. It is, rather, measured by the wealth of solutions, discoveries, and achievements of all people in a free and equal society that empowers everyone with limitless opportunity.