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A People’s Journey: Inside The National Museum of African American History & Culture

In an age where people get their news and information from social media headlines and online memes, it’s been both refreshing and heartwarming seeing the international excitement and anticipation over the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).

AlwaysAList.com attended a private preview of the NMAAHC with museum sponsor Toyota and got to tour the facility with some congressional leaders, government officials, entertainment executives and celebrity types.

Iyanla Vanzant poses next to the Mary McLeod Bethune exhibit at NMAAHC

Iyanla Vanzant poses next to the Mary McLeod Bethune exhibit at NMAAHC (Antoinette Charles Photography courtesy of Toyota)

NMAAHC spans 400,000-square-feet and has nine floors, four of which are actually underground. The museum also houses more than 33,000 items covering a range of categories, including: Slavery and Freedom; The Era of Segregation; 1968 and Beyond; Culture; and Community.

More than roughly 100 years in the making, this $540 million historical project is the 19th museum to join the Smithsonian collection of properties.

NMAAHC boasts a staff of 200 and the museum raised more than $315 million in private funds through fundraising.

Oprah Winfrey was a top donor with $21 million, and the little known private-equity financier Robert Smith was right behind her with $20 million.

"The Oprah Winfrey Show" display in NMAAHC (Antoinette Charles Photography courtesy of Toyota)

“The Oprah Winfrey Show” display in NMAAHC (Jawn Murray Photography)

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Companies like Target, American Express, Walmart, The Boeing Company, Kaiser Permanente, UnitedHealth Group and 3M gave $5 million each; while Bank of America, News Corporation, Medtronic Foundation, United Technologies Corporation and Time Warner Foundation donated $2 million each.

My hosts, Toyota donated $1 million to museum and were the official automotive sponsor of the dedication weekend festivities.

Toyota executive LaTondra Newton & Smithsonian's Director of NMAAHC Lonnie Bunch (Antoinette Charles Photography courtesy of Toyota)

Toyota executive LaTondra Newton & Smithsonian’s Director of NMAAHC Lonnie Bunch (Antoinette Charles Photography courtesy of Toyota)

“We look at this as a strategic partnership and we are looking forward to seeing what we can do to advance and expand the hope that the museum offers,” Latondra Newton, Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer Toyota Motor North America, told guests at a private luncheon for Toyota guests at their Washington, DC offices near the museum.

It was then President George W. Bush who was adamant that the museum be housed on the National Mall at the corner of Constitution Avenue and 14th Street, N.W., across from the Washington Monument.

The exterior of NMAAHC has a three-tiered shape that was built to resemble a traditional Yoruba crown.

Jawn Murray looks at some of the video displays in the Culture Section (Antoinette Charles Photography courtesy of Toyota)

Jawn Murray looks at some of the video displays in the Culture Section (Antoinette Charles Photography courtesy of Toyota)

The outside corona is made of 3,600 bronze-colored cast-aluminum panels that convey a message of faith, hope and resilience through its distinctive hands lifted in prayer.

It is emotional, it’s empowering, makes you nostalgic and inspires you, among a range of other emotions. But what I know for sure, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is something every American should experience.

To visit, guests must have Timed Entry Pass (https://nmaahc.si.edu/visit/passes). You can get four free Timed Entry Passes per visitor on a first-come, first-served basis.

Currently, no more passes are available through the end of December 2016 and the museum has not released passed for January 2017 as of yet.[divider]

AlwaysAList.com has decided not to run our photos of the historic exhibits so that the experience is fresh for those who visit NMAAHC.

Jawn Photo Booth

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VIDEO: Watch Michelle Williams perform her hit gospel song “Say Yes” with Robert Randolph & Friends during the Freedom Sounds concert on the National Mall as part of the opening weekend at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).

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