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The Kinsey Collection: African American Family Debuts Cultural Exhibit at Walt Disney World


A Whole New World: The Kinsey Collection

An art and history loving African American Family debuts their coveted  collection at Walt Disney World

By Penny Dickerson

A Whole New World: The Kinsey Collection

“The Walls” from the Kinsey Collection

If the art of sharing were worth its weight  in gold, the amassed cultural treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey  would easily personify Ft. Knox. The philanthropist couple have gathered 400 ‘authentic and rare art, artifacts, books, documents and manuscripts that tell  the often untold story of African American achievement and contributions.’ The  culminating result is an impressive touring exhibit spanning more than 400 years  of history aptly titled, “The  Kinsey Collection: Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey.”

More than 3 million people in seven U.S. cities including the Smithsonian  Institute in Washington, D.C. have been exposed and culturally enriched. And  now, a global audience can experience ‘the intersect of art and history’ at Walt  Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Earlier this month, The Kinsey Collection opened to the public at the  American Heritage Gallery of the American Adventure Pavilion at EPCOT Center  where it will remain until 2016.  The private unveiling took place during  the 6th Annual Disney Dreamers  Academy weekend hosted by Steve Harvey with Essence magazine. The competitive program selects 100 students from across the  country to indulge in four days of mentoring workshops facilitated by  celebrities like gospel sensation Yolanda Adams, American Idol runner-up  Kimberley Locke, Actor Doc Shaw from Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne,” CNN  education contributor Dr. Steve Perry, and more.

Bernard Kinsey─patriarch of the namesake collection─also honored the 2013 cohort with a  historical lecture, “The Myth of Absence” which aligns with the Kinsey’s  ultimate goal: education.Bernard Kinsey Lectures on African American History from The Kinsey Collection

A Disney partnership effectively broadens the collection’s outreach, but a  unique agreement with the Florida Department of Education  fills a void  Kinsey believes is omitted by most African American textbooks. The Kinsey’s  self-published coffee-table book bears the collection’s title and has been  approved to teach K-12 history in Florida schools.

The publication works in concert with the collection as a visual and  kinesthetic educational component. Readers embark upon a 198 page, picturesque  journey in print that begins in 1632 and travels to the present. The art of  Stephen Duncanson and Romare Bearden are complemented by 17th century  documents from historical abolitionist Frederick Douglass and Dr. Martin Luther  King. Jr., whose legacy encouraged everyone to ignite a dream.

“This exhibit presents truth, but is not an exercise in  victimhood,” said Bernard Kinsey to a captive room at EPCOT World  Showplace. “We have the courage to uplift and do justice to an integral part of  American history that dispels the myth that our history is absent from the  whole.”

The Kinsey Collection

The Kinsey Collection Opening at Disney World

Cross-referencing visual slides from the collection, Kinsey’s unwavering  passion for history reverberated as he described the 1832 slavery ‘Bill of Sale’ that inspired the collection. From his confident podium stance to his  matter-of-fact wisdom, he remained candid about everything from the 1619  Mayflower arrival to Buffalo Soldier pride.  Images of black bodies lined  like sardines beneath a slave ship’s belly were displayed along with the dismay  of Dr. Selma Burke’s original mold being used to create Teddy Roosevelt’s  likeness on the American dime. The African American sculptor was never given  credit. Throughout, Kinsey remained unapologetic in his posture that the African  American presence in history is not one of invisibility.

Among the engaged dreamers was 15-year-old Dwight James of Jacksonville,  Florida who expressed genuine excitement: “I loved when he said Christopher  Columbus didn’t discover America. The Indians found America. America has been  re-owned,” said James, who dreams of becoming a writer.

Sharing his sentiments was spoken word artist Husain Abd’Allah from Jamaica,  NY. The ninth grade homeschooler is a Schomburg Junior Scholar in African  American studies who was intrigued by the gallery, “It was such a wonderful  exhibit,” he said. “We got to see how it all came together. They had a lantern  where you just turn the handle and it starts giving you an overview of the  gallery.”

Most impressive for Abd’Allah was Mrs. Fisher’s Cookbook, the first  known cookbook by a Black person. Husein, like many in attandance, had never  heard this information prior to The Kinsey Collection.

It was Carmen Smith, Vice President of Creative Development  of Walt Disney Imageering whose unwavering vision lead to the Kinsey-Disney  partnership. She learned about the Collection from Bob Billingslea, former Vice  President of Corporate Urban Affairs and Minority Outreach, and eagerly  presented the idea to theme park executives. “We saw this as a unique  opportunity,” she said. “More than 20 Disney executives were taken to Los  Angeles, California to view the entire collection. It was simply magical! There  were no hesitations to bring it to the American Gallery.”

The bulk of the Presidential Award-Winning collection remains housed in a  converted wine cellar in the Kinsey’s sprawling Pacific Coast home. Of the 400  available pieces, 40 were hand-selected to comprise the Disney exhibit, but  every six months they will be rotated until the entire collection has been  viewed. To preserve the integrity and protect from light and moisture damage, some items in the exhibit are facsimiles.

Innovative Disney “Imagineers” teamed to create a gallery  experience consistent with attractions throughout the resort’s multiple theme  parts. Their daunting task was to build an interactive exhibit that brings  African American history to life. Anthony Sparks, M.A. served as the  writer/consultant for the project. For more than four months, the University of  Southern California scholar and former stage actor (“Stomp”) worked to perfect  the exhibit. “The big question was how to make a gallery kid-friendly?” he  explained. “My goals were simple: appeal to families, all ages, and create  something that worked on many levels.”

The project further involved condensing vast material to tell a cohesive  story that was not all inclusive but gave a sense of the African American  experience and five tenets of The Kinsey Collection: Hope, Belief, Courage,  Heritage, and Imagination. Lanterns, symbolic of the freedom path, were given  narrative voice by Academy Award winning actress Whoopi Goldberg. Additional  A-list celebrities lending their sound were Chaundra Wilson and James Pickens,  Jr. (Grey’s Anatomy), Kerry Washington (Scandal), ABC News Anchor Diane Sawyer,  and others.

For Kinsey and wife Shirley, the realization of their cultural inheritance  is an overwhelming achievement and accomplishment. “It now has a voice, a name,  a personality,” offered Kinsey.

The Kinsey Family serves as a formidable example of African  American resilience and strength. The Florida A&M University alums met  during the civil rights movement and remain married 40 years later.  Both  are Xerox Corporation retirees who mastered  saving money in their  early lives together. The dividends have allowed them to travel more than 91  countries and help raise more than $22 million dollars to support HBCU’s. Their  son Khalil currently serves as general manager of operations for The Kinsey  Collection. While in grade-school, he exhibited an inquisitive nature regarding  his family history. Both parents eagerly addressed his cultural thirst. The rest  is Kinsey history.

Penny Dickerson is a Florida-based independent journalist. She is a  frequent contributor to the Florida Courier, Florida Times-Union and other  regional and national publications. Her work can be viewed at  pennydickersonwrites.com.

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One comment on “The Kinsey Collection: African American Family Debuts Cultural Exhibit at Walt Disney World

  1. Excellent article. I absolutely love this site.
    Continue the good work!


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