Work together, Build together, be Great together: The Kinsey Legacy

Shirley Kinsey, Khalil Kinsey and Bernard Kinsey
Photos courtesy of Carlos Wilder

A simple definition of a family is a group of people whom are related to one another – but with the Kinsey’s, it is much more than that.  

These historians have been accomplishing countless achievements with their “African American Treasures” Exhibit –now viewed by more than five million people- for the past nine years.

Bernard and Shirley Kinsey are the brilliant minds behind The Kinsey Collection that showcases African American artifacts and achievements that have been overlooked throughout history.

They both met in Tallahassee at a time when the city was heavily divided racially and Black protests for civil rights were expressions of the times. They both attended Florida A&M University and graduated in 1967.

“We met in 1963 right here, after she got out of jail for demonstrating. This was a very segregated city,” said Mr. Kinsey. “We had the opportunity to grow together. We left here (Tallahassee) in ’67 and moved to California and have been there for 49 years and made a life.”

They have been collecting artifacts for more than four decades, longer than their 38-year-old son Khalil has been alive. The exhibit was not always a planned motion by the Kinsey’s. First, it was their own private collection in their home that not many saw unless they came for a visit.

According to Mr. Kinsey, they had the thought of sharing the history with the younger generation to make them more “proud to be African-American.”

“We saw people who resonated with it,” he said. “We always wanted to share this story of African American achievement and accomplishment. That’s what this is about. Most Black people don’t know that we (African-Americans) did so much. The idea of the Kinsey Family Collection is to share these unknown and untold stories to show our young people that they can be more proud to African American.”

The passion for African-American art runs deep in the Kinsey’s and they decided to take further action when they saw that the collection piqued the interest of others.

Gail Herring, the communication coordinator for Toyota who helped present the collection, said that hearing Bernard Kinsey talk about the collection brings it to life, and that he displays the love he has for every element involved.

“If you’ve never heard Bernard Kinsey speak about the collection and his passion for it, it comes through clear as a bell,” said Herring. “It (the collection) can stand on its own, but there’s nothing that brings it to life more than having a lecture where you hear Bernard Kinsey talk about it.”   

An article in 2006 published by the LA Times featured the Kinseys’ collection and museums began to call them from that point on, the first being the California African-American Museum. The collection began as an exhibit in 2007.

The initial plan by the museum was for the collection to be the first of a series of exhibits showcasing African-American couples collections, according to Khalil Kinsey. The content of the collection could not be under one category because it possessed different elements and that is when it caught the interest of other museums such as: the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and Disney World.

Since the article, the 2007 tour up until the present day has been displayed in more than 18 museums. Khalil noted that his parents’ accomplishments are huge because it came from something that they had no intentions of doing.

“Had my parents kept it (the collection) in their home and continued to share it the way they did, then maybe a few hundred people would’ve seen it in a lifetime,” said Khalil. “Now it’s been seen by well over five million people. So a couple hundred versus actually having an impact of that magnitude is pretty powerful.”

Khalil, who shares FAMU alumni status with his parents, became immersed with the collection in 2009. Prior to his involvement, he had more interest in retail and once had a store in Tallahassee Mall called Team Style, which was short-lived; he helped found the popular clothing line Diamond Supply Co., while in Los Angeles.

Since he has a background in journalism, his parents asked him to help write their book after the person they previously hired did not work out because it did not have their voice in it. Through research and analysis of the collection, Khalil’s like for the art, turned into love.

“I had to learn a lot about this stuff, so I read it and analyzed it,” he said. “As I was absorbing it while working on this stuff, it kinda got me and I was like ‘wow!’ I’ve been living around this stuff all my life and I overlooked it. I was surprised and kind of ashamed that I took it for granted for so long.”

Now that the whole art and the passion is ingrained in the family, Bernard feels great about the possibility of the legacy being carried on by his son. He said that it is an incredible feeling because it became Khalil’s passion as well.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” said the elder Kinsey. “I’m 72 and I might not be here long, so to know that this is going to be carrying on with my son is really incredible. It’s also his (Khalil) passion now, so here with his passion and his last name is Kinsey, how are you going to mess that up?”

Khalil is appreciative of his father getting him involved in the tour because it created a stronger bond between the two.

“First and foremost, working together has brought us together,” said Khalil. “We had the standard father-son relationship growing up where I was becoming a man and he was still trying to assert his dominance.”

They did not always see eye to eye because he was in the process of becoming a man and his father was still trying to maintain superiority. He mentioned that prior to getting involved, he was trying to make his own path.

“Because of my parents’ success and their presence at FAMU, I spent most of my time trying to escape the shadows and forge my own path and I did that for a long time and we didn’t see eye to eye on everything. Since we started working together, we have a positive relationship now.”

The Kinsey Collection debuted at FAMU in January and will be on display until March 25 at the Foster Tanner Fine Arts Gallery.

The intended message that Bernard Kinsey wants to convey to the viewers is to keep striving, there is always hope.

“This family treasures its past and the accomplishment of our people,” he said. “From that, we get trained for our future. We want Black folks to see themselves not giving up when we had so many of our ancestors who did so much with so little.”