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Weisman Museum to Display Kinsey African American Art & History Collection in Spring 2022

Bernard, Shirley, and Khalil Kinsey

From January to March 2022, the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University will display the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection, America’s largest privately held anthology of African American art, history, and ephemera. The exhibition was announced on February 24, 2021, at Smothers Theatre in Malibu during the President's Speaker Series event featuring philanthropist and entrepreneur Bernard (MBA ’73), his wife, Shirley (MA ’76), and their son, Khalil, Kinsey in discussion about the “myth of absence” concept that has played a significant role in America’s view of African Americans and the many and often untold examples of African American achievement and contribution.

The award-winning Kinsey Collection celebrates the achievements and contributions of Black Americans from 1595 into the contemporary era. Widely considered to be one of the most comprehensive surveys of African American history and culture outside of the Smithsonian Institution, the collection features more than 150 paintings, sculptures, photographs, rare books, letters, manuscripts, and more. A groundbreaking exhibition that has been viewed by more than 15 million people and received national media attention, the Kinsey Collection is currently spearheaded by Khalil, who serves as its general manager and curator.

Introduced by Pepperdine University president Jim Gash (JD ’93), Shirley began the evening’s discussion of the “myth of absence.”

“Who knew that embark on a lifelong journey of collecting some 40 years ago, would lead us to preserving our history for our future?” Shirley asked the audience while candidly reflecting on her successful 54-year marriage.

During the early days of launching the collection, the Kinseys had not imagined that their art would eventually become an exhibit that has traveled for the last 14 years to 31 cities and one international country. Crediting her passion for indigenous art to her son’s birth—which sparked a deep interest in learning more about their African heritage—their collecting became increasingly intertwined with art and history, with the goal of telling the untold stories of their African ancestors without focusing entirely on the horrors of slavery. 

“We see ourselves as stewards and caretakers of this collection, and it is incumbent upon us to share these stories, this history—American history—with as many people as possible in as many places as possible,” Shirley said. “Tonight we honor our ancestors who were lost, stolen, left behind, but not forgotten. The journey continues.”

Following his mother at the podium, Khalil reminisced about growing up in a family that strongly encouraged exploration and discussion of African American history and the innovations and accomplishments this group introduced to the world—none of which he was taught in school. It was during his early adulthood years that Khalil, who now better understood the lessons his parents had impressed upon him, realized he was on a “journey of discovery, enlightenment, and empowerment.”

For those interested in exploring this history, Khalil mentioned the release of the fifth edition of the book The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection: Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey – Where Art and History Intersect, which explores African American history in artistic ways.

Noting that his family has raised over $28 million for Black colleges and nonprofit organizations over the past 30 years, Bernard expressed his belief that God wants us to share our blessings with one another. He explored the concepts of equality in America, and the disparities often experienced by people of color, especially in relation to prejudice, power, and privilege. Regarding prejudice, Bernard explained that in Los Angeles, Black people are three times more likely to be pulled over by law enforcement at traffic stops than white people. This statistic is nine times more likely in Oakland and six times more likely in San Francisco. Of everyone approached by law enforcement at traffic stops in New York, 88 percent are people of color. In defining power, he highlighted the ways in which law enforcement agencies issue citations to and incarcerate Black people more often. In examining privilege, he raised issues of financial and economic hardships faced by Blacks in America.

“We want to destroy the myths about Black people's contribution in building America. We want to give our ancestors a voice, a name, and a personality. We want to make sure that we are motivating, educating, and inspiring others to do more,” Bernard shared. “The myth of absence says that African Americans are invisibly present and just not part of the narrative. We're not part of the picture, we're not part of the dialogue, and we're not part of what happens in this country every day. And we know that because our history books essentially wiped out all of the contributions, the magnificent African American contributions that nobody knows about.”

Acknowledging slavery in America during the colonial period, Bernard compared plantations to prisons, where 4 million enslaved Blacks were forced to endlessly endure unbearable conditions. To engage the audience in a more meaningful discussion of the notable time periods and historical figures—including information about the origins and politics of Los Angeles and Chicago, Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin, authors Harriet Jacobs and Phyllis Wheatley, and “the first American terrorist group,” the Ku Klux Klan—Bernard’s presentation featured related artwork from the Kinsey Collection.

Khalil followed this presentation format as he discussed in detail the contributions of African Americans during WWI and the Harlem Renaissance, including Black individuals who served in the military and their role in introducing jazz music to France; Marcus Garvey’s stance on the economic empowerment of Black people Carter G. Woodson, who founded Negro History Week in 1926, which became Black History Month in 1976; the impact of artists like sculptor Selma Burke and painter Jacob Lawrence; and the political activism of singer-songwriter Harry Belafonte and actor Paul Robeson.

At the end of his presentation, Khalil reminded the audience that these historical figures, among millions of other Black people in America, did not enter this country by choice. “We didn't come here because it was a better place. We came here and made it a better place,” he said. “The thought around Black Lives Matter shouldn't be an argument. It shouldn’t be a thing that we have to convince anyone of. If you see the pieces in the collection and if you do the math on your own, you'll start seeing and understanding a fuller picture of America.”

The discussion concluded with President Gash thanking the Kinsey family for their informative and engaging presentation at the second installment of the President’s Speaker Series, followed by a question-and-answer session with the virtual audience.

This event was part of Pepperdine’s celebration of Black History Month that aims to uplift Black voices, celebrate Black achievements, and serve as moments of reflection and remembrance of Black history in the United States.

In ongoing efforts to build a community of belonging, the Office of the President launched the President’s Speaker Series to welcome distinguished scholars and thought leaders representing diverse points of view to examine topics and issues facing our communities and the world today. Driven by a desire to connect deeply with the University community and inspire meaningful dialogue, the series provides opportunities to cultivate an engaged and impassioned collective through civil discourse.

A full recording of the event will be available on the President’s Speaker Series page until March 25, 2021.