Bus provides ‘safe space’ for conversations about intolerance while traveling Illinois

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The Mobile Museum of Tolerance by the Simon Wiesenthal Center parked outside the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on Tuesday. The museum is an initiative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Chicago and hopes to use presentations on the Civil Rights Movement and the Holocaust as way to encourages conversations by using history as way to help understand the world today. The museum is parked in the parking lot next to the Statehouse Inn north of the state Capitol and will be open to the public on Wednesday and Thursday. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

A multicolored bus with the faces of a diverse group of powerful historical figures rolled into Springfield this week with intentions of having conversations that will have lasting impacts throughout the state.

Inside the bus, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Anne Frank and Jackie Robinson are among the faces featured on the walls with quotes communicating powerful and thought-provoking messages. 

On Monday, the Mobile Museum of Tolerance — an initiative of Chicago’s Simon Wiesenthal Center — made a temporary home for itself outside the State House Inn on East Adams Street where it will remain until Thursday. The mission of the mobile museum is to provide a space where people of all ages and backgrounds can learn about the societal impact of intolerance, in an effort to empower them to take steps to combat things like hate, bullying and racism. 

Cam’Ron Chisam, right, a junior at the Springfield NAACP Academy, joins his fellow students as they experience a video presentation that contains portions of footage from the Eyes on the Prize documentary on the Civil Rights Movement on a video wall inside the Mobile Museum of Tolerance by the Simon Wiesenthal Center parked outside the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., Tuesday, May 4, 2021. The Mobile Museum of Tolerance is an initiative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Chicago and hopes to use presentations on the Civil Rights Movement and the Holocaust as way to encourages conversations by using history as way to help understand the world today. The museum is parked in the parking lot next to the Statehouse Inn north of the Illinois State Capitol and will be open to the public on Wednesday and Thursday. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

"It’s a safe space for us to speak to students and educators and adults about the world and tolerance and our place in it,” said Alison Pure-Slovin, who is the Midwest region director for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “We don’t teach history. We use history to educate ourselves about where we have been and where are we going forward."

Converted from an RV, the bus houses a mobile classroom built for 32 students and complete with a trio of theater screens where those inside can view scenes of everything from the civil rights movement to the Holocaust and the Diary of Anne Frank. The images are used to start conversations about intolerance. 

"You can’t watch these scenes from the 1950s and the 1960s, in the civil rights movement in the United States, and not think about the marches and the protests that we’ve seen in the United States and internationally over the last year and a half,” said Mark Katrikh, who is the director of operations and experience for The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. “Unpacking that, and helping us understand what that means and how that impacts each and every one of our lives is sort of the final piece to the conversation."

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On Tuesday morning, Katrikh led a conversation with a group of local high school students who stopped by the mobile classroom. Even though the same materials are often used to facilitate discussions on the bus, the takeaways are often different and based on the lived experiences of those who are taking part.

Simply asking a group what the word tolerance means to them can serve as an entry point into a deeper conversation for those on board. 

"That word means different things to different people,” Katrikh said. “It’s everything from this idea of putting up with something — to tolerate, to forbear — all the way over to acceptance and understanding, which are very different things. Even being able to unpack that part of it gives us a little bit of insight into how we can have these conversations. Then we go from there.”

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The hope is that those on the bus can leave with an understanding of how they can take small steps in their every day interactions to make the world a better place — whether that is sitting next to a classmate who always sits alone at lunch, or standing up for someone who is being bullied or receiving unfair treatment.

The historic examples shown on the bus often focus less on the victims and perpetrators regularly featured in traditional school settings, and instead take a closer look at the bystanders and upstanders involved and the impact they had or could have had. 

“My job is to complicate history for people,” Katrikh said. “So often we think we understand an event, but when we really start digging into it, we find out that it’s much more complicated than it really was."

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The bus — which was build from an appropriation in the state budget and is the first of its kind in the nation — started hitting the road at the end of February. Since, it has already educated more than 2,000 students across the state. However, with the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools in town for a conference, this week’s stop in Springfield is less about teaching classes and more about providing legislators, regional superintendents and the Illinois State Board of Education with an opportunity to see and experience the Mobile Museum of Tolerance, and make requests for it to visit their respective districts. 

So far, the bus has been in 12 different school districts throughout the state — including stops in Bloomington and throughout the Chicago area. Next week, the mobile museum is headed to Macomb before making a stop in East St. Louis. 

While in Springfield, the bus is open and free to the general public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday. 

Contact Natalie Pierre at npierre@gannett.com or on Twitter @NataliePierre_

via The State Journal-Register

May 5, 2021 at 06:04AM

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