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City of diversity: Changes coming to beloved Children’s Museum exhibit

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO

On a weekend afternoon the “Boston Black: A City Connects” exhibit at the Boston Children’s Museum is overflowing with inquisitive kids. Children of all ages and nationalities walk through the “street” that contains culturally authentic shops and stations representing African American heritage.

“Boston Children’s Museum has a century-old tradition of celebrating diversity,” says president and CEO of the museum, Carole Charnow. The dedication to inclusion shows. A 4-year-old boy sits in the chair of a barber shop inspecting himself in the mirror while his siblings shop for groceries in the marketplace, where everything is labeled in English and Spanish, and Goya goods overwhelmingly outnumber American products. Unlike adult streets laced with prejudice and politics, this make-believe neighborhood breeds only acceptance and understanding.

On the web

Boston Black is on view at the Children’s Museum Saturday-Thursday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Friday 10a.m. – 9 p.m. To contribute to or learn more about the renovations visit or e-mail Sue Kim, Vice President of Development, at

The “Boston Black” exhibit has been running for 12 years now, but according to Charnow big changes are coming to the popular spot. Long due for a renovation, the display will be expanded to include Asian, Hispanic and other cultures in addition to the African American focus. The museum is currently in the fundraising stage of the project and hopes to institute these changes over the next 18 months.

The mini-community featured in the gallery hosts a plethora of interactive opportunities for its tiny visitors. A newsstand at the entrance features publications like Jet, Essence and Black Enterprise. To the right, the John J. Smith Barber Shop highlights both Boston and black history. The shop is modeled after one that was run by John J. Smith in Beacon Hill over 150 years ago. It was used as an abolitionist center and meeting place for both black and white changemakers. Next to the barbershop is a Cape Verde-inspired café where kids can learn to dance to traditional Funáná music. An interactive map embedded into the café tables shows the location of the different islands on the West African archipelago.

The grocery store is an overwhelming favorite in the exhibit, according to Charnow, but the space also includes a Carnival prep station and a hair salon with traditional African American textures and styles. The many facets of the space make it the perfect spot for a multitude of programs. Citizens Bank sponsors a “Money Matters” program that utilizes “Boston Black” to teach financial literacy. Children are given a set amount of money and can go around paying for or delivering services. The monthly event teaches children the value of money in a safe, fun environment.

Boston Black has been a beloved institution, and with the impending cultural additions it will only continue to grow the dialogue about race in Boston. Charnow hopes that children will come to the museum and see parts of their own cultures and worlds in the exhibit. “This work is extremely important, with the public discourse that has become so intolerant,” she says. “We hope we can work towards community engagement, inclusion and a welcome environment for all races, ethnicities, genders and families.”