The Modern African Diaspora Experience Creates an Online Museum Celebrating African Heritage


How MADE is telling a global story from the African American roots of Dayton

When you imagine a typical museum, you probably think of history lessons and informative exhibits focused on a specific area or culture. But what if the concept of a museum included interactive forums, fundraising efforts, business resources and more — and what if the museum lived on the internet with a global reach rather than in a brick-and-mortar location? That’s what first-time entrepreneur Joyce Barnes is setting out to achieve with the Modern African Diaspora Experience, an online museum meant to connect members of the African Diaspora.

“The Modern African Diaspora Experience, or MADE, is an online portal to connect diasporan people in the western hemisphere,” she said. “It’s a place to come and learn about the history, people and culture of the 40-plus countries where people who were brought to this area as slaves from Africa landed and survived slavery to give birth to all of us. They built a rich culture and history, and we’re giving people a look at the experiences that most of us don’t know about, including those of us who are part of the diaspora.”

Barnes was inspired to create MADE while in a movie theater, of all places. In the midst of the cultural mega-hit Black Panther, which she said affected her and other people of color in “a very profound way,” Barnes realized that she wanted to help connect the themes of black people disconnected across the globe. Though there are four different African diasporas, she decided to focus on the Modern African Diaspora, which covers more than 170 million people of african descent in North America, South America, Central America, the Caribbean and the British Isles.

“On our site, people will be able to learn about travel, find resources for entrepreneurial efforts, connect with one another and participate in philanthropic efforts,” she said. “Our goal is to be one place where you can learn not only the history of those 40 countries, but what’s going on right now in culture, art, entertainment, business and more. There’s a lot we want to do, and we’re going to build this up slowly. I want this to be around a long time and outlast me long after I’m here.”

Dayton might be thousands of miles away from some of those locations, but for Barnes, the Gem City is the ideal place to start education on African-American history. Dayton boasts the home of the Wright Brothers, but their innovative history doesn’t stop there. The city was home to the likes of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and other important African-American cultural, political and entrepreneurial figures as well. Barnes, a Dayton resident, loves the way the Wright-Dunbar neighborhood of Dayton serves as an example of the black history that even residents may not be aware of. And its resurgence as a bustling community makes Barnes proud.

“Dayton is a place of innovation, and it has been for a very long time,” she said. “It’s also a place that’s been revitalized — we have new art galleries, restaurants, museums and a lot of other activity building up the community. There are a lot of cultural spots, but I don’t think the story we’re telling at MADE has been told, and I would love to have that storytelling start from here. There is so much history that people are not aware of. We can start in Dayton and then expand to include people from other neighborhoods like this in other countries. I know they exist, and I want us to learn about them and connect with them.”

MADE’s new website launched Aug. 31 thanks in part to help from the Wright State ONEIL Center for Research Communication. Barnes also took MADE through the six-month Co-Op Dayton social incubator program, which she was invited to participate in after pitching at a Launch Dayton event. Eventually, she plans to cover all 40 countries with a variety of writers, historians and more. She’s starting small by focusing on four countries a month, beginning with Brazil, Cuba, Jamaica and the United Kingdom. Ultimately, Barnes hopes she can create a kind of virtual meeting place where MADE can provide as many relevant resources and connections as historic lessons.

“I’m hoping that MADE will build pride and a sense of community and connectedness while increasing knowledge and addressing some of the issues that still affect afro-descended people across the globe,” she said. “We’re focusing on this particular population and history, but we want to celebrate black excellence and improve black lives throughout the diaspora.”

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