Springfield and central Illinois AAHM names first executive director – The State Journal-Register


Executive Director of the African American History Museum Nalo Thomas Mitchell at the museum Wednesday, April 12, 2023.

Serving as a connector of people has always been a priority for Nalo Mitchell. Now she plans to use that skill for the purposes of expansion as the first executive director of The Springfield and Central Illinois African-American History Museum.

“I’m truly excited and I really want this museum to be on the map,” Mitchell said. ”It’s an honor to work with the board and be in a place where I can make a difference in a different way.”

Mitchell will lead efforts to enhance exhibits, develop programming, and expand the museum as executive director. The position was created with a $189,000 grant from the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services. The grant supports Mitchell’s salary for three years. 

According to its website, the museum seeks to “tell authentic stories about African-American life in Central Illinois, past and present, celebrating and sharing our history and culture and planning for our future.”

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‘We never had an executive director because we just couldn’t afford to fund the position,” said Board president Carolyn Farrar. “The museum exists primarily on donations, grants, and memberships so we needed this grant to support the position’s salary. “

Farrar said Mitchell interviewed with the search committee and board and rose to the top of the pool of applicants.

“She has excellent people skills and understands how to build relationships which is important to us,” Farrar said. “We want to bring more people to the museum and get them involved in our activities. She has the skills and our board believes she is a great fit to spearhead that leadership.“

Mitchell is from the southside of Chicago and has lived in Springfield for more than 18 years. She has three children and is an ordained pastor.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from Arizona State University and has master’s in organizational leadership and change from Colorado Technical University.

Mitchell has held three positions with District 186 and recently served as its coordinator of school, family, and community relations. She decided to switch career paths after several community members encouraged her to apply for the museum position.

“I’m not a history buff but I am a community connector and working in a spirit of excellence is always at the forefront of my mind,” Mitchell said. ”I see myself in a race that’s a marathon but I have the board, the community and our partners with me so I’m grateful for the support.”

Mitchell said leading the museum feels surreal since it has close ties to her roots. She is a descendant of the John Curtis family, one of the African American pioneering families displayed in the museum.

“I remember my great grandfather, even though I was four when he died. I distinctly remember his funeral and being in the house so to know he’s a part of history and is featured in the museum is astounding,” Mitchell said. ” I want our children to know about things that have happened and the sacrifices made by their ancestors for them to have an education that requires diversity. We want everyone to know Black history is American history.”

One of Mitchell’s plans in the position is to lead the museum’s effort in digitizing its 1908 Race Riot exhibit.

“I want us to be able to modernize and have the technology that will draw students in,” she said.

Mitchell also hopes to work with colleges and universities in the area to offer internships to students. She said her first day on the job was exciting and she looks forward to the museum’s future.

“I have chills thinking about that day, it was the best way to start my career here,” she said. “The biggest thing for me is to be flexible yet strategic, so I’m learning all the ins and outs but focusing on my strengths.”

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April 17, 2023 at 07:06AM

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