I grew up near the California African American Museum in Exposition Park, but for years I never gave it much thought as a place to go. It just didn’t seem that there was much to compel me. But things are happening now at the museum, and these days I’m there so much that I’ve had to get a membership. Often I’m there sipping white wine in a plastic cup, enjoying myself among a crowd of well-dressed black folk, and a substantial representation of all the other groups that comprise the ethnic quilt that makes up Los Angeles. Last time I was there I listened to Magic Johnson motivate a cross-cultural crowd of kids from L.A. Unified, and later that evening Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was supposed to drop by.
It’s all thanks to the hard work of executive director Charmaine Jefferson. In a short time, she’s managed to make the California African American Museum one of the city’s most vibrant cultural institutions.
Jefferson is a local girl, who graduated from Dorsey High School (my alma mater), not far from the museum, and went on to become a dancer, an attorney and executive director of the Dance Theater of Harlem, as well as deputy and acting commissioner of New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs. She knows how to run things. And she knows how to put on a show, whether it’s bringing in singers like N’dambi and Poetri of Def Poetry Jam, or coming up with new exhibits, including “The National Pastime in Black and White, The Negro Baseball Leagues, 1867–1955,” which was unveiled earlier this month.
Jefferson’s determination to give Los Angeles a great institution to showcase African-American contributions to the art and culture of California has paid off. As for me, I’ll be at the next CAAM happening with a glass of white wine in my hand, checking out the scene and discovering what else Jefferson has cooked up for the city.