Bernard and Shirley Kinsey

Philanthropists, Historians, Educators, and Lovers of Our Community

“We want to give our ancestors voices, names and personalities. Each of us must engage in the history and continue the narrative”

The irrepressible Bernard Kinsey speaks rapidly about his goal of shaping perceptions of African-Americans by revealing little-known historical contributions of blacks.  Kinsey’s enthusiasm is infectious, the Kinseys’ influence deep and wide.  On the national level there is the Kinsey Exhibition a 125 piece travelling exhibition of the couple’s rare collection of art and historical artifacts that has travelled to nine cities since 2006, with an illustrated book so relevant, it has been incorporated into the Florida school curriculum.  Over 200 articles have run about the Kinsey’s– CNN, Fox, NBC, and most recently a big interview with the BBC.

On the local level alone, the Kinsey’s have contributed greatly to the Mid-City area.  As COO and Co-Chair of the post-riots Rebuild L.A., the organization attracted $400 million in capital including funds for five grocery stores in underserved areas. Citing just a few distinctions, the couple has sponsored the First AME’s and West Angeles Church’s televised Sunday Gospel Hour for a decade, sponsored youth programs at Crenshaw High, and for the third year will be hosting an evening presentation on February 4th as a fundraiser for the Ebony Repertory Theatre.

Bernard and Shirley’s social activism was ingrained at a young age.  Bernard, the son of a school principal in segregated Florida, met his long-time wife of 45 years following Shirley’s arrest during a civil rights demonstration in 1963 Tallahassee.

As a VP at Xerox Corp. Bernard established the company’s Black Employees Association, increasing the hiring of blacks from 121 to 14,000 from 1971-91, later leading to the company’s first African-American CEO.  Under Bernard’s tenure, Xerox awarded millions of dollars of donations to school computer programs across the country. Calling himself an “aggressive achiever”, Bernard was an early sponsor of the NAACP Image Award.  Other accomplishments are too many to cite but the couple alone has donated or raised $22 million for charitable and educational organizations across the nation, besides providing key service and leadership to dozens of private and public organizations.  Kinsey’s social responsibility and philanthropy was recognized last year by Pepperdine College with a distinguished alumni award. “You have to agitate” he stated firmly in a TNN interview.  “To whom much is given, much is required.”

 

Lending profundity to the Kinseys’ message of black accomplishment is their renown collection of archives and art, illustrated in a 174-page catalogue subtitled “The Shared Treasures of Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, Where Art and History Intersect.” Included are museum-worthy 19th-20th century paintings and sculptures by such noted artists as Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Henry O. Tanner and Charles White. Perhaps more important are rare historical documents, manuscripts and photographs documenting African-American history.  Dating from 1632 to the present, the collection ranges from a Latin edition of Leo Africanus’ Description of Africa (a rare account of pre-slavery Africa by a black) to a 1963 letter from Malcolm X to Alex Haley.  Other treasures include artifacts from slaves and slave-owners, Frederick Douglass, Bannaker, Phyllis Wheatley, the Civil War, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, and Zora Neale Hurston, to name a few.

“Art is precious but historical documents are rare” Bernard explains.  Kinsey cites Wheatley --who came to this country as an illiterate slave to develop into an illustrious poet, equal in fame in her time as Oprah Winfrey– as one of the uplifting stories that should be better known nowadays.

Angelenos attending the Kinsey’s  February 4th presentation at the Ebony Repertory Theatre (titled “What You Didn’t Learn in High School History”) at 8 pm will be privileged to see some of these rare artifacts.  Works from the Kinseys’ collection will also figure in the PBS documentary “Slavery by Another Name” airing February 13th.  On March 22th a small exhibition will compliment the Kinseys’ lecture in USC’s huge Bovard theatre.

Bernard speaks fondly of the power of archives when held and examined up-close.

“Can you imagine the impression on a young boy when he is able to hold a centuries-old account of life on a slave ship by another youth?”

“We know that in order for history to have social value it needs to be personal and intimate . . .” he writes in the catalogue.  The contributions of African-Americans “should explode into our classrooms and into our collective conscience.”

Currently residing in Pacific Palisades, as an international business consultant, commentator, writer and speaker, Kinsey says he’s not interested in running for political office. Like Oprah, his enormous energy can be better spent on influencing lives on the local and international level.  Recently Kinsey took 31 teens from Crenshaw High as ambassadors to China.  “You should have seen how well equipped these students were to speak about untold stories of black history to the Chinese students whose main knowledge of blacks had been from sports and pop music,” he told TNN proudly.

Sharing the wealth of the African-American experience, the Kinsey’s don’t just walk-their-talk of “Learn, Use, Teach,” they sprint.

Editors Note: While struggling to figure out what to put on our Valentines cover, it suddenly came to me. Clearly Bernard and Shirley Kinsey exemplify the spirit of a loving couple as well as genuine lovers of their community. While photographing them in their warm home I asked them about their relationship. Married 45 years, Bernard first saw Shirley as she was being released from jail for a civil disobedience charge. A week later they formally met and have been together ever since.  They attribute their longevity to several interesting factors. Bernard first mentions being able to set mutual goals and work towards them together. That includes financial goals and responsibility. Shirley continued working for 15 years putting her paycheck into a savings account while Bernard’s paid for expenses. The money Shirley saved helped with eventual real estate investments and other investments that secured their future. “We have always been frugal and didn’t go for all the fancy trappings like expensive cars every year” said Bernard. “We preferred to invest in our vision,  traveling and our son”.  They also said their committment to the concept of marriage got them through the difficult times and although they may have experienced a conflict here and there they’ve never had serious words.  The clear comfort between them, easy affection and joy in their shared projects and shared life, easily makes them our Valentine Day Power Couple.

 

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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