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Obama Hawaiian Africana Museum celebrates often overlooked Black culture, history in Hawaiʻi

Obama Hawaiian Africana Museum Deloris Guttman
Courtesy Obama Hawaiian Africana Museum
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Deloris Guttman

A local museum is celebrating former President Barack Obama's 61st birthday on Thursday by holding its annual fundraising walk.

The Obama Hawaiian Africana Museum was founded as the African American Diversity Cultural Center Hawaii in 1997. Black culture has long been entwined with local history but is often overlooked.

The museum hopes to change that by documenting the lives of people of African descent who began arriving in the islands around 1750.

Museum founder and curator Deloris Guttman says her historical gallery adopted the 44th president’s name in 2018 after Hawaiʻi lost its presidential library bid to Illinois.

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Deloris Guttman at the Obama Hawaiian Africana Museum

"The reason why we created Obama Month outreach, we have to honor the 44th U.S. president because he put us really on the map around the world. And his position, he served two full terms, and that we need to empower young people," Guttman told The Conversation.

"So we're choosing to talk about him and our work through Obama Month, which is now the lightbulb for us. Up until we took on his name, people didn't pay too much attention to all the work that had been done to uncover a lot of our history — and we have documentation," she said. "So now it's time for us to talk story and to share this history. That's what we are doing during August Obama Month."

Guttman says she’s working on digitizing all the data she has access to, and hopes future generations will be inspired to uncover more stories of the history of Black people in Hawaiʻi.

The public is invited to participate in the museum’s Obama Birthday Walk starting at 5 p.m. Thursday at 1311 Kapiolani Blvd.

Guttman says the museum hopes to purchase Obama’s childhood home in Mānoa to house their historical exhibits.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Aug. 3, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Russell Subiono is the executive producer of The Conversation. Born in Honolulu and raised on Hawaiʻi Island, he’s spent the last decade working in local film, television and radio. Contact him at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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