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Shannon Faulk leads Natural History Museum by example

EXPOSITION PARK — Organizing and leadership comes naturally to Shannon Faulk, the newly elected president of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County’s Board of Trustees.

Faulk is the first African American to lead the Board of Trustees in its 104-year history, succeeding architect Sarah Meeker Jenson, who held the office since 2012 and now shifts to board chairperson.

Growing up in Berkeley, both of Faulk’s parents were community organizers. It wasn’t unusual for Faulk to come home from school and find his parents meeting with former Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums or the head of the NAACP.

His mother worked for the Oakland Unified School District, overseeing truancy and attendance. She also served as vice council for the United Methodist’s World Council of Churches. His late father worked for the federal government and in addition to being involved with civic organizations, he was a consultant for historically black colleges and universities, helping them gain funding and grand money to build and expand the campus property.

“I was exposed to a lot of different things as a child,” Faulk said. “In Berkeley, we viewed ourselves as citizens of the world.”

His world view was further shaped by attending graduate school at Clark Atlanta University, an HBCU, followed by two decades in corporate America. The coaxing of colleagues who had successful businesses and witnessing a few corporate reorganization convinced Faulk that he should use his experience to take the leap into entrepreneurship.

Nine years after opening his own State Farm insurance agency, Faulk enjoys the challenge of running his own company.

“It was a natural transition because I’d done all the components of operating a business: staffing, hiring, sales and marketing,” Faulk said. Operating the business also gives him an opportunity to provide a needed service to the community. His agency focuses on urban development by providing insurance and financial services products to urban-based community businesses and the private sector.

Faulk is one of the Natural History Museum’s longest serving board members. His tenure began when former County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke appointed him to its Board of Governors in 2008. Faulk was reappointed to the Board of Governors by current Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Faulk has participated in several committees and board leadership roles at the museum, including the Board Affairs Committee, the Strategic Planning Board Task Force and the Executive Search Committee, which brought the current president Lori Bettison-Varga to the institution in 2015.

Attracting new museum visitors, increasing membership and being a valued community partner is high on Faulk’s bucket list of things for the museum to accomplish.

“We want the museum to be more than a place for children to attend once a year,” Faulk said. “If we’re not impacting the community and people don’t recognize or want to visit from other local, national and international places, we haven’t fulfilled our potential.”

With that in mind, the museum board and its staff have joined with partners locally and globally to host engaging presentations and shows, such as the upcoming exhibit on body tattoos which starts Nov. 19. Ornate and intricate tattoos have a history that dates centuries and were used by many civilizations to denote a rite of passage or a religious affiliation. Exhibits like “TATTOO: An Exhibition” that connect the past with the present and the future are presented to attract new museum visitors, according to Faulk.

Established in 1913, the museum was the first public museum in Los Angeles. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles is the parent institution of the Natural History Family of Museums, which includes the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum and the William S. Hart Museum in Newhall.

Increasing board diversity is something that Faulk will work towards during his tenure. He hopes his election as president of the museum’s Board of Trustees will encourage other people of color to serve on boards in their communities and areas of interest.

“I didn’t realize I was the first until someone pointed it out,” Faulk said. “It is a goal of mine to show others it can be done.”