How to Wear a Crown

September 30th, 2016 by Kelly Kienzle

The new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture opened a week ago and I am enthralled by it already. I read everything about it that crosses my path. I am learning even from this museum’s opening about a segment of our culture and a perspective of our national history about which I am admittedly under-educated.

Here’s one of the gems that I found while reading about this museum:

James Baldwin once told Maya Angelou: “Baby, your crown is paid for. Put it on your head and wear it.”

Paying for Our Crowns

This quote was so powerful in its simplicity and its assumption of power. While Baldwin was undoubtedly referencing a much larger issue related to what generations of African Americans have suffered and earned, I wondered how a white girl from the suburbs like me could possibly tap into that kind of power. It sounded powerful and I wanted to figure out if I could use it too.

And here is my conclusion: After a certain point in our adult lives, we all have paid for our crown. We have each logged our late nights, difficult projects and frustrating colleagues. We have all surrendered certain comforts and even freedoms for the greater good of our teams.

While my payment certainly cannot be compared to the deep and horrible payment made by others, the underlying philosophy is still applicable.

Remembering Our Crowns

We all have paid for our crowns in some way. There is power in remembering what we have gone through, so we can use that energy to push us forward again. In fact, the architects of the new museum designed the building to imitate a traditional Yoruban crown worn by African royalty.  One of the architects, Philip Freelon, describes it as “a crown that signifies the status of the person wearing it.  It’s part of the celebratory nature of the building — an architectural form that’s uplifting and dignified.”

And, as Amy Cuddy and others have discussed extensively, small physical acts impact our mindset.  When we hold our heads a little higher and remember our crowns, we automatically feel more confident and possess more self-dignity.

So, the next time you are feeling beaten down by your schedule, circumstances or colleagues, remember that you have an already-paid-for crown. So put it on your head and wear it.

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