Meet the museum leader who helps Seattle celebrate black history

LaNesha DeBardelaben moved to Seattle from her home state of Michigan in 2017 to work as the executive director of the Northwest African American Museum. Why? Because she loved the important role the museum played in helping locals engage with our city.

We caught up with LaNesha to talk about her work at the museum and what she’s learned and loves about Seattle…

What’s your favorite part about your job?

The stories we tell! Every object has a story. Every artist has a story. Every person has a story — those who walk in our doors as visitors and museum supporters and those who hang on our walls as part of the exhibitions. I am a biographer, so I am fascinated by the stories of people AND the people of those stories. The two are inseparable.

Where are the two places you’d take an out-of-town guest?

I think a walk through Seward Park would amaze any out-of-town visitor. It’s one of my favorite Seattle spots. The other spot would be one of our historic black churches where great music and fellowship take place, such as New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Seattle’s Central District. I think the inspirational sounds of Seattle black music and powerful preaching would inspire any out-of-town guest.

What’s your favorite hidden gem in our city?

I’m discovering Seattle’s hidden gems at each opportunity. The Douglass-Truth Library is my favorite gem of the city, though not so hidden. They have an amazing African-American heritage book collection, a lovely display featuring Jimi Hendrix in the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Display Case, and an overall relaxing vibe. I love the fact that it is named after the indomitable Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, and as a certified librarian myself, I always feel at home at Douglass-Truth.

Kudos to Seattle’s Chief Librarian Marcellus Turner and his amazing team for the impactful work they do through and beyond libraries.

What’s the best advice you ever got from someone about living in Seattle?

While Seattle is large in population, it is small in terms of degrees of separation, interrelatedness, and personal connections. I think the best advice someone gave me when I first moved to Seattle is to just be me — to be true to myself. I’ve always believed in the concept of “to thine own self be true” and I am inspired by the African proverb, “When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.”

If you could change anything about Seattle, what would it be?

A greater sense of authentic unity is what I strive to foster. The “beloved community” is attainable.

What are five Seattle people or orgs everyone should know about?

  1. Jade Solomon Curtis, choreographer and dancer: @jade_solomon_
  2. Tarik Abdullah (@tarik.abdullah), chef and cofounder of the Black and Tan Hall (@blackandtanhall) in Rainier Valley
  3. Jessica Rycheal, storyteller and black mental health advocate — @jessicarycheal
  4. LANGSTON Seattle, formerly known as the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute — @206langston
  5. Blackpast.org@blackpasthistory


Want to visit NAAM? They’re hosting a talk about boxer Muhammad Ali’s cultural legacy and connection to hip-hop on Wednesday. To learn more about the Central District, the community which NAAM calls home, check out our spotlight on the neighborhood here.