“When I understand my history and where my ancestors came from, I understand that I can do what they did,” says Deborah Omowale Jarmon, CEO + Director of the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum (SAAACAM). “When you understand my history, then you understand that I have a place here. So, we have mutual respect.”
SAAACAM opened its doors at its new location in La Villita at 10am on Thursday, March 4th. It is free and open to the public. The museum offers a wealth of histories and artifacts that can familiarize the visitor with the African American community in San Antonio. The timeline in the gallery features QR codes which bring up Spanish translations, graphics, and historical details.
In the exhibit, “Documenting Black Lives Matters,” a visitor can explore the life and work of Eugene Coleman, a creative, advocate, and entrepreneur. In 1949, Coleman founded SNAP, a newsletter created by and for the San Antonio African American Community which focuses on relevant issues published every two weeks. It is still in circulation today. Visitors can access 16 digital versions of the SNAP newsletter from various decades since its founding. Coleman also appears in an audio-visual exhibit where he tells his story in his own words.
SAAACAM has partnered with the Witte Museum in the creation of its exhibits. Each exhibit is the product of a collaboration of SAAACAM researchers, two community members, and an elementary school educator.
Children will be able to pick up a “passport” at SAAACAM, which will allow them to explore African American History at four institutions: Briscoe Western Art Museum, Carver Community Cultural Center, San Antonio Museum of Art, and Witte Museum. Beginning on March 14th, Go Rio Cruises will offer Black History boat tours every second Sunday at 2pm and every fourth Saturday at noon.
Deborah has a passion for facilitating historical and cultural education going back years. She was deeply involved in community organizing in Oakland, California. When she arrived in San Antonio in 2012, she established a bed and breakfast in the King William Neighborhood. She felt it important to create a space for her community in the neighborhood. Later, she discovered that there had been an African American Masonic lodge in King William.
She was interested to learn more about local African American history. For Black History Month, she wanted to take her grandkids to culturally relevant sites. When there was no clear direction to take them, she decided to become involved in the community. After volunteering at DreamWeek for several years, the position at SAAACAM became available. Deborah explains that with the advice from a friend and some prayer, she understood how her faith had led her to San Antonio. She sees her role as illuminating and sharing the African American history specific to this city.
“I’m here for a reason,” she says. “And we all have a place.”