Described by the New York Times as an “aggressive achiever,” FAMU alumnus Bernard W. Kinsey is a former Xerox executive, and former chief operating officer and co-chairman of Rebuild Los Angeles (RLA). He is president and founder of KBK Enterprises, Inc. and co-owner of the world-renowned Kinsey Collection art and historical exhibit.
During his tenure as president of the FAMU National Alumni Association (NAA), assets grew fourfold, life memberships doubled, and he launched the first FAMU/NAA National Convention now in its 15th year. As chairman of the FAMU Industry Cluster from 1984-1991, Kinsey helped raise more than $9 million. He and his wife, Shirley, also a graduate of FAMU, have personally contributed more than $350,000 in grants and gifts to FAMU and more than $75,000 to the FAMU Marching “100.”
The Kinsey Collection is considered one of the premier collections of African-American history and art and has been exhibited in 18 cities, to include a display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. In March 2013, Walt Disney World Resort at Epcot opened “Rediscovering America: Family Treasures from the Kinsey Collection.”
The Kinsey Collection has been chronicled in more than 400 articles and TV programs worldwide and has been seen by more than five million people. The Kinsey Collection will unveil its exhibition at FAMU later this month on January 22, 2016.
The Kinsey’s, who have both received advanced degrees from Pepperdine University, reside in Pacific Palisades, California and are the proud parents of one son, Khalil.
Join us in a Q&A as we follow Bernard Kinsey’s FAMU journey to success:
Q: What inspired you to get into art collecting and become a historian?
A: My wife and I first started because of our travels. We have traveled to 98 countries and six continents over our 49-year marriage. The more we traveled, the more we understood that we did not know enough about our own culture. We started actually collecting art first before the historian pieces. In the 1970’s, we began collecting artwork such as Ernie Barnes and the like. From the beginning, people that would visit our home would be impacted by these African-American artists. The artwork really resonated with them, and they became our favorite pieces as well.
Our son Khalil, who is also FAMU alum, was assigned to complete a report on his family history when he was in third grade. Shirley and I couldn’t provide him much information past our grandparents or the 1880’s due to slavery. Khalil mentioned that the other students in class could trace back their history to England, Spain, and Ireland. We could hardly trace our ancestry past the state of Georgia, and we knew there was something fundamentally wrong about that. So what we began to do was to gather our collective history.
About 30 years ago, a business partner of mine in Florida found a document of an African-American young man being sold for $550 in Alabama. He gave it to me because of my love of history. When I received the package and read that bill of sale of another human being, it sent shivers through my body. This changed my life, and I wanted to know how someone could own someone else.
Slavery is an abstraction until you really understand that these were real people with hopes and dreams and families like you and I that we take for granted today as human beings. I began to read, and I picked up John Hope Franklin’s book, “From Slavery to Freedom.” The more I read, I realized that I wanted to know more about the subject of slavery, and I wanted to find out how African Americans were in this predicament in the first place. How did we get to be enslaved and how did we become Black? These questions were consistently in my mind, and I wanted answers to them. I have always been an avid reader and in our home, we have a collection of historical books on slavery. We are really making history by what we have been able to uncover through the Kinsey Collection.
Q: What influenced your decision to attend FAMU and select your major?
A: The Marching “100” period! My mother and father met each other in the 1930’s at Florida A&M University. My mother played in the band back in 1939. My entire family comes from a musical marching band tradition in my house. All five of my brothers and sisters all played in the marching band during high school in West Palm Beach. I actually majored in mathematics because there was a draw for engineers and scientists during the 1950’s when I attended FAMU.
Without Florida A&M University there wouldn’t be a black middle class in Florida. Literally, anybody that did anything of significance got his or her degree from FAMU.
Q: What was your favorite course and why?
A: My favorite courses were political science and history. I really love everything about history, which sparked the desire in me to learn more about my culture.
Q: What was your best memory at FAMU?
A: I met my wife Shirley, who was also a FAMU student in 1963 after she was arrested for demonstrating in downtown Tallahassee to open up the Florida theatre to include Black patrons. During the early 1960’s, we were in the height of the Civil Rights Movement and Tallahassee was one of the most segregated cities in the South. We had our own little world on “the highest of seven hills.” For over 50 years, all of our closest friends have been FAMUans. We have strong relationships and friendships all over the country with Rattlers that were established back when we were students at FAMU. My brother, Bradshaw, and his wife, Penelope Kinsey, also attended FAMU. In our family, we have a Rattler legacy with over 20 nieces and nephews who graduated from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.
We continue to give back to our communities and provide scholarships to FAMU.
Q: What advice do you have for incoming students today?
A: In today’s world, without a solid education, you won’t get very far. As a minority in America, it is vital that you are educated and prepared for opportunities that will come your way. You can be Black and successful too! If you stay grounded and utilize the academic and socialization skills that you learn at Florida A&M University, you can have a good life. Develop relationships with your peers because these relationships are critical to your success and maturation as an adult that will assist you in making an impact in this world.