Published On: Sat, Oct 22nd, 2016

We Went “Under The Big Top” Then Checked Out the Portraits at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

It wasn’t quite the circus, and there wasn’t a huge tent with elephants and tigers dancing about, but we had a good time at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Under The Big Top nevertheless. We invited Alani; just before they opened the doors, a lady asked me if they were twins.



We were early, before much was going on, so the first order of business was the arts & crafts table. Funny how with some paper, crayons or markers and a glue stick, kids come up with and create just about anything we adults wouldn’t even think of. Alani made a flamingo. Najwa did something with frogs, lily pads and I’m still not sure what she made.

They did have an activity to make a cone-shaped hat, though.



Then there was the one carnival game, only one I saw anyway. Sometimes I get nervous with these games. They take precision, accuracy, some dumb luck and grace if you don’t win anything. Najwa is working on the first three. She struggles with the last one. Maybe I had her repeat “we win” too often when she was younger. Fortunately, she didn’t too bad.



Check out Najwa’s concentration before even being handed another bean bag to toss!

Then came the performers. It was a simple act, just three performers, with a silly skit at first, then they wowed the kids with their show. I was even impressed. Good show.





On the way out, we stopped by the white board where kids were asked “What is your favorite circus act?” Najwa, writing a complete sentence for her answer as she was taught in school, chose clowns. Then proceeded to draw an example just in case someone didn’t know what a clown looked like.


And then someone else, interpreting the question a bit more adult-like than the kids, had an answer that seemed to get a chuckle out of all the adults…


Considering we were at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, we had to check out the works of art. If anything, to expose Najwa and Alani to museums, the artwork, and how to not make so much noise when others are taking in the art!

At first glance, I thought this portrait was of Michelle Obama. Instead, someone just as powerful. And whenever there’s anything to show the power of black women, I make sure Najwa gets exposed to it.


Najwa and her buddy at the portrait of Charlayne Hunter-Gault.

Civil rights activists who wanted to integrate all-white Southern colleges approached Charlayne Hunter — who had been ranked third in her class at her Atlanta high school — to be a test case. The team had thought to start with a state school located in Atlanta, but Hunter wanted to go to the University of Georgia at Athens, which had a good journalism program.

Hunter’s 1959 request for admission was denied due to the university’s claim that it had “limited space.” While a legal team, whose members included Vernon Jordan, filed suit, Hunter studied at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Then a court ruling came: In January 1961, Hunter — along with her high school classmate, Hamilton Holmes — would be allowed to enroll at the University of Georgia. Holmes and Hunter thus became the first two African-American students to integrate the school, with Hunter becoming the first African-American woman to enroll there.

Within 48 hours, students were rioting outside their dorm, tossing bricks and bottles through her window. She went on to become an award-winning journalist and foreign correspondent who worked for media outlets such as New York Times, PBS, NPR, and CNN.

The next portrait wasn’t a woman. Not black. But had just as much of an impact in black history as anyone. Anyone who doesn’t know John Brown should Google him. Since his name is common, add Harpers Ferry to your search.


Portrait of abolitionist John Brown.

This piece of artwork, though, was my favorite. Najwa, who obviously was getting antsy to leave, has a bit too much Korean in her genes for hair like this.


We didn’t stay long. All three ladies were ready to leave, just when I was getting started. We’ll be back though.

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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.

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