New museum opens Sunday trying to correct misconceptions of African-American culture, history

African-American Museum of Beginnings creator Khalif Rasshan of Chino Hills hopes the cultural and historical displays will correct misconceptions, embrace understanding and, for black children and teens, build self-esteem.

Awareness and education are top priorities for Rasshan, the retired Pomona alternative education and high school teacher. The museum, co-presented with Pomona Unified School District, will host its grand opening from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday in The Village at Indian Hill's Suite 188 at 1460 E. Holt Ave., Pomona.

An African marketplace; African and African-American artifacts, periodicals and historical documents; an African holocaust exhibit; black inventors display and performances by Up From The Roots directed by Pomona master percussionist Sam Roy, gospel selections by Pomona's Community Church of God Choir and line dance demonstrations by Heart and Soul are featured Sunday.

The program is free and open to the public. The exhibit continues through April 26. Regular museum hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Rasshan was a child when he "declared" his future would revolve around education.

"I made my declaration about a future career after I'd gotten into trouble," he sheepishly admitted.

"I cussed out an elder and she followed me home," he continued, still dismayed about his action and her follow-up solution to it. "I was in seventh grade and had gotten into an altercation with her son. I also cussed her out. She started walking away, but she didn't stop at her house. She went a half-mile further to mine. By the time, she got close to my street, I was begging."

Rasshan remembered his childhood as a time when parents gave neighbors, relatives and even strangers the right to chastise and corporally punish their children if necessary. Parental punishment followed reports of misbehavior.

"My dad was very kind that day. He just talked to me," Rasshan continued, confessing relief. "He told me about not disrespecting people, especially elders. I was a work in progress at that time, but I gained respect and kindness for elders and people in general from that incident and conversation with my father. My tone has been respectful ever since."

There were many more lessons from his father, late Caltrans landscape supervisor William Gordon, and his homemaker mother Carrie Gordon. Although he'd only gone to eighth grade, Rasshan remembered his father as "one of the most learned men I've ever known." Although frustrated by his lack of education, Gordon stressed education as the highest priority for his 12 children.

"He tempered any frustration he might have felt by teaching his children about the importance of education and the fundamental oneness of human beings," Rasshan recalled.

"The best value I gained from my father's lessons was the understanding there is only one race, the human race, and everything else is culture."

Born in Los Angeles and raised in Compton to age 15 when his parents moved to Pomona, Rasshan graduated from Garey High School in 1969 and then completed a bachelor degree in sociology at the University of La Verne and a master's in education from Azusa Pacific College.

It was at La Verne where he truly connected his intermediate declaration and the mission of education.

"La Verne was a teaching school. The professors and classes there seemed to vibrate with my spirit," he said. "I came to understand the role of education is to develop what's already in a child, to bring out innate characteristics and stir the thirst for lifelong learning."

The vision of a museum correcting cultural misconceptions and encouraging educational forays into African and African-American history started percolating in Rasshan's brain at La Verne. He saw cultural awareness and education as ways to improve self-esteem, get blacks off welfare and into satisfying jobs and careers and help other cultures better understand black history and culture.

He received encouragement from ULV professor Rodney Davis, president Stephen Morgan and vice presidents who brainstormed with him to show him how to develop strategies to eventually establish a community educational project. Everything was further re-enforced by his wife, retired elementary school educator Victoria Rasshan.

Victoria, PUSD's 1999 Teacher of the Year, now sits on the museum's board of directors with her husband, retired Pomona principal Samuel Tharpe, retired Pomona teachers Sowah Aleem Rahmaan and Jerry Bryant, business development consultant Cloyed Miller, child development instructional aide Dont Washington, computer technology consultant Kendrick Olive and multimedia executive Devance Ray.

Rasshan taught English and reading initially at Garey, his high school alma mater. He soon shifted to the social studies department and taught world history, government and economics, student law and, briefly, U.S. history.

"U.S. history was not a good experience for me because I had a serious problem with the omission of and outright distortions about the history and culture of underserved people," Rasshan said. "I had to teach to the state standards of curriculum, but it was problematic for me because of how those standards related to or dismissed people of color and women. It became painful.

"World history, on the other hand, was more humanistic and allowed for presentations about the history and cultures of underserved people," he continued.

"My vision for the museum had come out of the discovery of a history beyond the contributions of African-Americans and their struggle for fairness, my father's lessons about the oneness of humanity and the importance of education and cultural awareness," Rasshan noted.

"Once the box was opened, I discovered all kinds of truths that had been spoken by African-American and European scholars for many years. I felt a need to share those discoveries."

Maxine Miller of Rancho Cucamonga, a retired San Bernardino teacher and school administrator, said lacking knowledge about one's cultural background can cause children to have low self-esteem. Low self-esteem can prompt negative behavior, poor grades and lack of motivation, she reasoned.

Positive self-esteem stirs hope, establishes balance and harmony and creates new possibilities which build better families and communities, interjected her husband Cloyed. Everything is interlinked, he said.

"Historian John Henrik Clarke said events that transpired 5,000 years ago, 500 years ago, 5 years ago and 5 minutes ago have determined what will happen 5 minutes from now, 5 years from now, 500 years from now and 5,000 years from now," Cloyed Miller said. "All history is a current event."

The Millers and multimedia specialist Wallace Hall agree the museum's goals are vital because they educate, inform and connect culturally diverse people, clear up misconceptions and encourage cultural collaborations.

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