Guest post by Lauren Catey
On Tuesday, the Neighborhood Writing Alliance brought the legacy of Malcolm X’s life and work straight to 40 event attendees at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. “Necessary!” is a traveling exhibit from the archives of the Black History 101 Mobile Museum featuring rare photographs and artifacts from Malcolm X’s life. Tables full of old magazines with a glaring Malcolm X on the cover, rare contact sheets of Malcolm X giving a speech, and artifacts of racism, such as an aging tube of “Darkie” toothpaste, lined the walls of the Hull-House Residents’ Dining Hall.
Mobile Museum founder Khalid el-Hakim started collecting racist artifacts and Black memorabilia over 20 years ago while still a student at Ferris State University. “My former sociology professor at Ferris State, Dr. David Pilgrim, encouraged me to collect artifacts as a tool to expose people to the ugly history of racism in America,” el-Hakim said. “This collection is my gift to Black history. The history of Black people in this country is something that should be celebrated and studied not just in February, but throughout the year.”
El-Hakim said he noticed that people didn’t seem to be going to museums, so he thought he would bring the museum to them. The Mobile Museum makes this possible. It is a very cost effective, accessible way to make sure education is available to all. The history comes to the people, instead of the other way around.
El-Hakim now travels all over the country from his home base in Detroit, where he teaches, to make sure important relics of history are not lost forever. The pieces in his collection range from the age of slavery to the birth of hip hop culture. El-Hakim brings his exhibits to colleges, universities, K–12 schools, conferences, and cultural events. He has a special exhibit for kids focusing on the “3 M’s”: Motown, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Michael Jackson. “The kids really love it. They identify with Michael,” el-Hakim told the attendees while explaining the exhibit.
El-Hakim also has a hip hop-based component of the Mobile Museum that travels throughout Michigan on a 30-foot trailer. The exhibit, entitled “And the Legacy Continues…” concentrates on the birth of hip hop and its expansion and growth, as well as celebrating artists that produce socially-conscious hip hop—the kind of hip hop that no longer makes it onto the covers of magazines or to the center of our culture. As part of the “Necessary!” exhibit on Tuesday, el-Hakim brought a collection of rare hip hop records that built on Malcolm X’s legacy. A record by hip hop group Boogie Down Productions, “By All Means Necessary,” paid homage on the cover to a famous photograph of Malcolm X, and referenced his oft-quoted call to action: “By any means necessary.”
“My mission is to raise the consciousness of the human family by sharing artifacts that celebrate the contributions, achievements, and experiences of African Americans,” states el-Hakim on the Mobile Museum website. “I want people to walk away as inspired as I’ve been as a collector and student of this history.”
NWA writer Kucha Brownlee commended el-Hakim’s work at the event and told him, “If you can’t get to the water, bring the water to them.”
El-Hakim encourages people to stay in touch with the Black History Mobile Museum. He regularly posts artifacts on the Museum’s Facebook page. In a few weeks, the Mobile Museum will continue traveling around the country, bringing el-Hakim’s treasures—artifacts that represent an important, too often untold, history—to many more.
Lauren Catey is a writer and teacher living and working in Chicago, IL. She has her BFA in Fiction Writing with a concentration in teaching from Columbia College. She grew up a Midwest farmer’s daughter in the small town of Peru, Indiana, the self-proclaimed circus capital of the world. Now she works as a facilitator of an after school program at Cesar E. Chavez Elementary on Chicago’s South Side with second graders who are better at dancing than she is. When Lauren isn’t writing or teaching, she is probably cooking or dancing. If she isn’t doing any of those things, she probably isn’t very happy.