By Harry C. Alford
ABOVE PHOTO: David Adjaye.
It is official! The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall will be about Blacks, designed by Blacks, and the construction managed by Blacks. This $500 million project will be totally unlike the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Monument, which was manipulated by and profited behind-the-scenes White interests.
Let’s first look at the design/architectural team. The lead designer is David Adjaye, a native of Tanzania who now lives in London. He is arguably the best major designer in the world with a portfolio full of popular buildings, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo, Norway, and the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management in Russia. Mr. Adjaye is giving the museum a classic Yoruba (West African) design. They picked one of the best through a competitive process, and he happens to be one of us.
Next is the architect of record. That distinction belongs to Philip Freelon, CEO of the Freelon Group, a Black architectural firm based in Raleigh, N.C. Some of the firm’s projects include the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African-American History and Culture, and the Museum of the African Diaspora.
The other principal in the design/architectural component of the project is Max Bond, who worked with the firm of Davis Brody Bond. Unfortunately, Bond died of cancer shortly after receiving the award. However, his firm continues to be active in this major undertaking.
This is proof positive that the age-old tradition of architecture and design that began with the erection of the pyramids – which still stand today – continues on as a fine African tradition. They couldn’t take it away from us and we just keep getting stronger.
Let’s look at the construction management side. Here, too, we find actual qualified African-American participation. The Sherman R. Smoot Construction Co. of Columbus, Ohio is one of the three partners on the construction management team. Another partner is H.J. Russell & Company based in Atlanta. Both Smoot and Russell have offices throughout the nation. These two Black family-owned giants are teaming up Clark Construction, based in Bethesda, Md.
This isn’t window dressing. These two firms have put up the bonds for the project and bring their financing to it. It is a real deal, and we should be so proud. The National Black Chamber of Commerce has had a very positive and enjoyable relationship with these two firms and is absolutely confident that Black contractors will get at least their fair share in the building of this giant project, provided they do their best. They will!
The engineering, contracting, and subcontracting opportunities for the project are immense and transparent. Interested up-and-running businesses should log on to www.nmaahcproject.com. This website is established for this project, and there is a sincere effort to include qualified small businesses. There will be no ‘fronting’ like on the Dr. King monument. This is the biggest single project in terms of Black participation. That is fitting, since the subject matter is our history.
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Special thanks and recognition goes to U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga). Congressman Lewis was the “Most Valuable Player” in getting this project accepted and funded. He was there at the beginning and he drove it to the finish line with devotion and commitment. His proud face was a beautiful sight as he held a shovel at the official groundbreaking on Feb. 22. The NBCC is so thankful for his successful efforts that we plan to formally recognize him for that devotion.
Our children and grandchildren will read about this powerful fact of Black business acumen taking place day to day. They will see our legacy and fill their “chests” with pride. God is great!
Harry C. Alford is the co-founder and president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.
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