For one day last week, Morrell Lounge in the David and Saul Smith Union turned into an exhibit for Khalid El-Hakim’s Black History 101 Mobile Museum. El-Hakim, founder and curator of the museum, has traveled to over three-hundred institutions in more than thirty states. With him, he brings a collection of artifacts that range from pop-culture icons to centuries-old relics, from Isley Brothers’ records to slave shackles.
El-Hakim’s Friday visit to Bowdoin kicked off No Hate November, “a month of programming aimed at removing bias and raising awareness on campus around issues of diversity and inclusion,” Mohamud Nur ’19, Bowdoin Student Government’s Vice President for Academic Affairs, wrote in an email to campus. El-Hakim staged his exhibit all day on Nov. 3, and gave a brief lecture that afternoon, focusing on Martin Luther King, Jr., Motown, and Michael Jackson.
El-Hakim, a former social studies teacher who was raised in Detroit, brings a pedagogical approach to his work. He has traveled the country for the past twenty-five years, scouring flea markets to search for artifacts to add to his collection. “I want to let the audience know that I didn’t create these objects, and neither did they,” he said. “But these things exist, they influence us, and we have to grapple with them.” El-Hakim hopes to give people the space to experience these objects themselves, while making himself present to mediate when needed.
The thrust of El-Hakim’s work is to remind viewers, through historical physical objects —some degrading, some celebratory — the realities of those who came before. “The challenge is to be reminded of those people who stayed and struggled,” he said. “We have to remember those people who responded to racism and white supremacy in America, and know we are a part of that struggle. We have to think about what side of history we want to be on. Because in fifteen years, we may think about Colin Kaepernick the way we think about Rosa Parks.”