Rebuild LA icon and family have new mission-rebuilding education

Spreading his arms wide from his second floor patio with a view across the Pacific halfway to Hawaii, Bernard Kinsey noted, “I don’t need this. I retired 20 years ago. The reason we put this exhibition, the lecture and the book together is for education.”
As I drove a hybrid along the Pacific Coast Highway to their seafront home, I had been thinking the same thing. Bernard and Shirley Kinsey clearly could avoid wading into America’s greatest domestic problem–poor public education, particularly for African-American students.
While she served a cranberry and orange salad, I could see in their faces the determination that has driven them to create a massive collection of African-American heritage and present it to an expected three million visitors by the end of their Smithsonian Institution exhibit in May.
The critical acclaim still wasn’t enough to calm down Bernard. “I want this book in every classroom in America,” with a conviction forged from passion.
Their shared effort comes natural. His father was principal of the colored high school in West Palm Beach and they met at Florida A&M University.
Among a cavalcade of distinctions, Bernard Kinsey rose to public acclaim for his role in Rebuild LA, the effort to restore South Los Angeles after the 1992 civil disturbances.
But during 40 years of work in economic development, he is equally convinced that developing people is perhaps more important that new buildings and infrastructure.
“We’re losing black population in Los Angeles, in San Francisco, in Chicago,” he added. Those are all cities that have seen black political success at the highest levels.
Turning their passion into action, The Kinsey Collection: Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey “Where Art and History Intersect” was adopted by the Florida Dept. of Education as a curriculum project for sharing statewide via Florida iTunes U.
There are more than 30 taped messages recorded by their son, Khalil and well-known African-American celebrities which give a tour of the collection.
The prompts, arranged by artifacts and works of art within historic subsections, cover a variety of content areas and grade clusters, which have been loosely grouped as K-5, 6-8 and 9-12.
This followed up on exhibitions in Tallahasse and West Palm Beach. Now that the collection is in the National Museum of African-American History and Culture’s temporary home in the National Museum of American History, Kinsey wants the lessons to spread nationally, including in his home town of Los Angeles.
In Florida, the couple trained superintendents and principals from across the state, to highly favorable reviews.
Their presentation “What You Didn’t Learn About in High School History” was a sell-out performance for the second year in a row as a benefit for the Ebony Theatre Company at the Nate Holden Center for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles.
But as long as two in five black students in Los Angeles and other major cities drop out of school, there will be a burning fire in the Kinsey household, despite the peaceful sound of the waves.
The real “Battle:LA” is for the future of its African-American students.