This summer, Simone Biles, widely regarded as the greatest female gymnast of all time, shocked the sports world by retiring from the majority of her events at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Citing her struggles with “twisties,” a mental block that makes gravity-defying gymnastics movements incredibly dangerous, the 24-year-old has received widespread praise for putting his health first.
Biles later said she took inspiration from Naomi Osaka, the 23-year-old tennis star who retired from Roland Garros and Wimbledon in order to prioritize her mental health. The two women, both black athletes at the peak of their sport, are part of a growing wave of black individuals “publicly [taking] their sanity in their hands in a way never seen before in elite sports, ”as NBC News reported.
Lonnie Bunch, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, says the example set by Biles, Osaka and others has brought the issue of “mental health through the lens of race” to the fore. This topic, along with the broader relationship between race and well-being, looks particularly timely in 2021, as the United States continues to contend with systemic racism and a pandemic that disproportionately affects people of color.
“Part of the fight for equity in America is the fight for equitable health care and access to mental health care,” Bunch said.
Race, welfare and wealth will feature prominently in an upcoming forum hosted by the Smithsonian’s Our Shared Future: Reckoning With Our Racial Past initiative. Scheduled for Thursday, August 26 at 7 p.m. EST, the virtually broadcast summit will put Smithsonian academics in conversation with authors, experts and activists. Planned programming includes sessions on the history and impact of race, the link between health and wealth, the role of race in mental health and trauma, and local organizations striving to reinvent a better future.
The Smithsonian announced its Reckoning With Our Racial Past initiative last summer, following the murder of George Floyd and the outbreak of widespread protests against police brutality. Funded with a $ 25 million donation from Bank of America, the goal of the campaign is to “confront race and highlight racism and social justice from a historical perspective,” Ariana said. Curtis, director of content for the initiative. Reckoning With Our Racial Past also seeks to emphasize the relevance of its topic today and to offer ideas on how to move forward as a nation.
In addition to virtual and live events, the multi-year initiative will include town halls, digital resources, educational tools, immersive pop-up experiences, storytelling projects, fundraising efforts and more. This week’s event will be the first of three national forums.
“When I became a secretary [in 2019], what was important for me was to recognize that the Smithsonian had a contemporary resonance, that it had an opportunity, really a responsibility, to have value, to say basically: we are going to help the public by giving him tools to grapple with everyday life, from the challenge of climate change to race issues, ”says Bunch.
He adds: “When a nation is in crisis, its institutions must be strengthened. And clearly, this country is in crisis.
The Smithsonian’s collections and researchers represent a wealth of expertise, and its status as a beloved 175-year-old American institution means it is uniquely positioned to bring together people of different backgrounds and experiences.
“Our network includes other museums and cultural centers in the United States of varying sizes and missions, as well as community organizations, academics and activists,” says Curtis. “We are certainly not assuming that the Smithsonian is the first organization to think about these [questions of race,] but thinking of the power we have as a trusted institution to bring these [issues] to a larger and larger audience is really important.
The secretary envisioned the project as a way for the Smithsonian to “do what we do best”: namely, to make complicated subjects accessible to the public, provide a historical and cultural context that illuminates the present, and forge links between people who could not otherwise interact. . With the funded initiative, the Smithsonian could shed “some light” on a moment “fraught with misinformation, hatred and partisanship.”
The team responsible for developing the initiative focused its efforts on six thematic pillars: running and well-being; race and wealth; race and location; race, politics and ethics; race beyond the United States; and race, arts and aesthetics. All of these topics tie in with ongoing Institution-wide work of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s Care Package, an online exhibit of creative offerings released at the height of the pandemic, when the crimes of Anti-Asian hatred was in the news across the nation — on the NMAAHC’s Talking About Race portal.
“The term ‘systemic racism’ can seem unwieldy and overwhelming,” explains Curtis, “and so we wanted to think about how to make it knowable? How to make it understandable? How do you make it feel changeable? “
She adds that she wants the forums to give the public a sense of optimism: “We want people to think about a way forward. “
The ongoing pandemic influenced the decision of the organizers to center the initiative’s first forum on race, welfare and wealth. But this week’s event doesn’t just focus on Covid-19. One session will discuss the development of race as a social construct and the lingering consequences of unsubstantiated claims that race is based on biological differences. “[This is] a time when people are trying to go beyond race as an identity and really want to question how race works, what race means, what role race and racism have in our lives today ”, Curtis explains.
Joi Lewis, founder of the Healing Justice Foundation; Monique Morris, President and CEO of Grantmakers for Girls of Color; and Diana Chao, Founder and Executive Director of Letters to Strangers, will lead a separate discussion on mental health and trauma, a topic explicitly linked to public statements made by Biles, Osaka and other black athletes.
“This particular conversation is intergenerational,” Curtis explains. “Younger generations of black women speak openly about their mental health in ways that would not have seemed acceptable or permitted to previous generations. Opening this conversation in public spaces is really important.
To ensure the initiative reaches a large part of the country, the Smithsonian is working with local partners, including cultural organizations, historically black colleges and universities, sports teams, and nonprofits. These groups will help organize pop-up events in cities across the United States, addressing issues through a local lens in recognition of the fact “that the race takes place differently in different places,” according to Bunch.
“It’s less about the Smithsonian saying we have the answers, and more about the Smithsonian as a facilitator,” he adds. “What I hope it will become [is] a driver of possibility, a driver of collaboration that… the Smithsonian can continue to do long after I’m no longer a secretary.
For Bunch, the initiative represents “an opportunity for the Smithsonian to demonstrate that it has value, not only as a place that looks back, but as a place that looks to the future.” He hopes this “will help a nation recognize that it has a common future even though race issues have always divided us.”
The initiative’s first forum, on the theme of race, well-being and wealth, will be held virtually on August 26 at 7 p.m. EST. Join Secretary Bunch and a panel of esteemed experts at oursharedfuture.si.edu.