Opinion My kids need to know that Black is brilliance. So we go to museums.

(Diana Ejaita for The Washington Post)

Danté Stewart, a theologian, essayist and cultural critic, is the author of the memoir “Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle.”

The history of Black people is also the history of Black parents refusing to allow the world to erase our stories.

When I was growing up, my mama had a ritual. Anytime we were in a city other than our own, we would visit the nearest Black museum. There were three of us — I was the youngest — and we lived between Swansea, Sandy Run and St. Matthews, S.C., places made of bad roads and fields where locals reenacted the memories of our enslavement. (Imagine, just up the road, on the way to my grandma’s house: White boys and men dressed in Confederate garb, playing out fantasies of war and hate.)

During trips up north to Baltimore and D.C., or west to Atlanta or Memphis, my family would enact a different type of remembering. Between church services and family visits, my parents took us to museums, becoming tour guides — not to remind us of our enslavement, but to reveal our humanity.

To be honest, back then, I probably would have preferred to go to a mall. But to my mama, these trips were more than trips. They were time travel. She knew that the past is never past, and that even though she couldn’t protect her Black children from the ways racism would dehumanize us, she could disrupt its force by making sure we knew our people’s art and history — by passing on knowledge about the power of our Blackness.

Now, I am the father of two beautiful Black children. And like my mama, I have found a sanctuary and barracks in museums that tell Black stories. I believe there is no greater way to love our children than to connect them to their past and prepare them for the dangers they face in a country boiling with anti-Black hostility — a hostility that never died, but that crawls in the ground and the laws, and screams in the voices of our neighbors who say our equality would be their oppression.

A good Black museum is more than a building that houses historical artifacts. It is a portal, a world, a witness to Black grief and joy, a place that reminds us that no bit of American soil has not been touched by Black blood or Black brilliance.

And so it was that last year, my wife and I decided to take our children to see the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Ala., a place that sits on land where Black mothers were separated from their daughters, where Black fathers were separated from their sons. A place where the haunting of American history is woven within the cracks of the concrete and in every steel rail that carried Black people to be trafficked. “Racial subordination was codified and enforced by violence,” the site of the museum reads — right there, where we were standing.

Tips for taking children to the new Legacy Museum and lynching memorial in Alabama

As noted, I am no stranger to these sorts of spaces. But nothing, and I mean nothing, could have prepared me for the way I would feel as we moved inside — a jolt of anxiety and a quiet warmth at the sheer fact of my Black parenthood, of what we as a Black family had come from.

Every room offered a historical journey, from enslavement to modern-day mass incarceration, and summoned the history of White violence against Black life. Each also stirred an unshakable belief in Black dignity.

We saw heads of the formerly enslaved, sculpted with reverence. We heard voices telling the stories of children who began their lives under the safe covering of a parent, only to be robbed of that peace. We saw scenes brought to life by a painter’s heart and hand, displaying the many iterations of Blackness and its power.

The exhibits also drove home a message: A just country is a grieving country. A country that acknowledges and grapples with its grief, whose people are committed to making the most marginalized visible, to resurrecting the stories that have been buried, is one that has learned to reckon with its sins.

As we walked, my 4-year-old son, Asa, kept asking, “Daddy, what’s this?” I did my best to explain. “That’s where we come from,” I said, or “That’s what happens when people are mean.”

Of course, he couldn’t quite grasp it. How could he? What child can get the story of millions of Black people forced across the ocean, or the image of a White child, only a few years older than he, holding a sign about not wanting to be in school with “Negroes”? How does he reconcile this with the room lathered in images of Black people cooking, singing, praying, protesting, dancing?

I, too, was a child who wanted to know, who understood the power of wondering. So we continued the ritual my mama started: Every question Asa asked, I answered.

As a Black parent, I have my questions, too: What story are we telling of ourselves? What is America? What story are we giving the children of this nation? Will they know how precious and sacred it is to be Black? How will they know we have loved them, with what we have given them? Whose pain will they work to heal and repair?

I don’t have sufficient answers. But what I do have is what my body remembers of my family entering the glistening brown room just before the Legacy Museum’s exit.

It was called “The Reflection Space.” In this room were the faces of ancestors watching over all who entered. The lights lining the ceiling turned the room gold. My son ran ahead of me and sat. My wife paused. I imagined, whatever I’ve come to believe heaven to be, this room is there. My God, I thought. And then I noticed the music. I heard the words of a voice singing: how I got over how I got over you know my soul looks back and wonder how I got over.

I stood still. I hugged my son. I hugged my wife. For five minutes, my wife and I were silent. We smiled. I closed my eyes, took a long, deep breath, wanting to inhale whatever spirit was in the room.

Afterward, I called my mama to ask her why she’d done it — why she had felt it so important to take us to museums. “History is being whitewashed, son,” she said. “We need to know so that we don’t repeat the same mistake.” But at we, she corrected herself: “Other people need to know where we fit in, and y’all needed to learn how a group of people facing adversity … can rise above that.”

I don’t know whether these rituals will truly help us rise. But I do know they remind me just how important my job as a parent is — to make clear to my children that they deserve to be left with the most loving, healing, affirming and liberating ideas of who they are.

Progress in America is not a given. It is won. It is won when we put our children in the places where they have the freedom to always ask: What’s this?

And so, other people, I invite you to join us. Visit a museum. Learn about the history of your fellow citizens. And by all means, take your children. Because James Baldwin was right: “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”