December 12, 2023

Igniting a Cultural Renaissance with the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund

Celebrating Success and Looking Ahead at the 2023 Leadership Summit

Six years ago, in the wake of the racial unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia, the National Trust for Historic Preservation launched the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund to forge a new national identity that reflects our diversity through the preservation of African American history and culture.

Today, I am proud to say that through the pursuit of our mission, we have ignited a cultural renaissance dedicated to using preservation as a force for cultural change and racial justice.

We didn't get this far alone. At the end of 2023, we had the opportunity to gather with the donors, activists, experts, and partners who visioned with us at our 2023 Cultural Preservation Leadership Summit, held at the Ford Foundation's Center for Social Justice in New York City. Together, we celebrated our successes, shared the lessons we learned, and discussed a bold agenda to fuel the future of the historic preservation movement in America.

Three people standing together in animated conversation.

photo by: Kisha Bari

Marimba Milliones (Hill Community Development Corp) and Justin Garrett Moore (Mellon Foundation) in conversation with Summit attendee.

View of one individual, Brent Leggs, in the foreground while being interviewed at the Action Fund Leadership Summit.

photo by: Kisha Bari

Fireside chat with Brent Leggs and Adam Pendleton (Daydream Therapy, LLC) about the Nina Simone Art Exhibition & Gala.

We were thrilled to be joined by luminaries like Action Fund Co-chairs Darren Walker and Phylicia Rashad, who challenged us to think bigger and scale up our preservation values in public space. Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. spoke about the significance of the Black Church and our shared work to preserve historic Black churches like 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, St. James AME in Mayfield, Kentucky, and Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles, California.

For example, the Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles was Southern California's most influential civil rights church, constructed in January 1926 and designed by architect Paul Williams. This historic structure played a vital role in the Civil Rights Movement, hosting activists like Esther Hines, Malcolm X, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Gordon Parks, and A. Phillip Randolph and the national convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on three occasions—1928, 1942, and 1949.

Dr. Elizabeth Alexander moderates the Monuments and Justice panel at the Ford Foundation with Dr. Marvel Parker, Tiffany Tolbert, Patrick Weems and Dr. Justin Hopkins.

photo by: Kisha Bari

Dr. Elizabeth Alexander moderates the Monuments and Justice panel with (from left to right) – Dr. Marvel Parker, Tiffany Tolbert, Patrick Weems and Dr. Justin Hopkins

However, in recent years, the 100-year-old structure has required significant renovations. The wood structural columns have eroded, the roof needs repair, and a stewardship plan is necessary. Working alongside the church and community, the Action Fund will create a preservation blueprint and direct funding that will enable this historic structure to continue serving the community for years to come.

Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, President of the Mellon Foundation, also joined us to discuss monuments and justice-centered commemoration around the historic buildings and landscapes tied to the legacy of Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley.

Darren Walker from the Ford Foundation standing at a podium giving introductory remarks for the 2023 Action Fund Leadership Summit

photo by: Kisha Bari

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation and co-chair of the Action Fund Advisory Council provides opening remarks.

Earlier this year, President Biden officially designated the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument, the first multi-site national monument dedicated to racial injustice and healing. The three sites - Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago, Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi, and Graball Landing on the banks of the Tallahatchie River - tell a complex story about the enduring reality of racism in America and the courage and resilience of Mamie Till-Mobley and the African American community.

Dr. Alexander spoke about how this designation will protect our opportunity to reckon with racial trauma and heal as a nation while also coming together to say: never again.

A group of people, the staff of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, standing in front of a bright pink step and repeat at the AACHAF Impact Summit.

photo by: Kisha Bari

The staff of the National Trust's African American Cultural Heritage Action fund. L-R Paige Lee, Jessica Pumphrey, Brandon Bibby, Tiffany Tolbert, Kelli Gibson, Brent Leggs, Meera White, Lawana Holland-Moore, Alaska McInnis, Melissa Jest, and Leslie Canaan.

These are just a few examples. Our shared work is reverberating across the nation. Whether it's restoring Nina Simone's childhood home, revitalizing historic Black districts across America, or re-examining how we interpret historic sites with descendants and histories of slavery, there is a growing movement and desire to tell the full American story.

The Action Fund is proud to be a leader and convener of this movement.

Much work remains ahead, but I left our leadership summit feeling motivated and inspired to continue this cultural renaissance. We could not be more excited for the opportunities to come in 2024.

Donate Today to Help Save the Places Where Our History Happened.

Donate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation today and you'll help preserve places that tell our stories, reflect our culture, and shape our shared American experience.

Brent Leggs

Brent Leggs is the executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and senior vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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