Remembering Yesterday, for the sake of Today and Tomorrow

While I was in Oklahoma last weekend, I visited two very significant museums: the museum and memorial commemorating the Oklahoma City Bombing of April 19th, 1995; and the Greenwood Rising museum and Reconciliation Park in Tulsa, which commemorate the Tulsa massacre of the Black community [often known as “Black Wall Street”] in the Greenwood neighborhood on June 1st, 1921.

Both museums are really excellent—very educational and engaging, and powerful experiences as well. And while they commemorate very different events, of course, I couldn’t help but be struck by the similarities. Both tragedies were the result of hate, mistrust, suspicion, and violence that was nurtured by a community of like-minded individuals. And, in both cases, these misguided and malformed emotions, beliefs and actions resulted in the deaths of hundreds.

What can we learn today to keep history from repeating itself?

I thought it was interesting that both memorials invite the visitor to wrestle with this very question—the Greenwood museum even has a place where you can type in your pledge to take positive action to combat racism, ignorance and discrimination. Neither experience leaves you in the past; instead, both pointedly push for you to take what you have experienced, what you have learned, and bring it into the present with a commitment to be a force for good in the world, and an agent of reconciliation, caring and peace.

The two pictures that head up this post really capture this spirit at both places. In Oklahoma City, out of the overwhelmingly generous response from the whole city to the bombing, the concept of the “Oklahoma Standard” was developed, focusing on service, honor and kindness: “Show up to Serve; Rise up to Honor; Step up to be Kind.” In Tulsa, there is an emphasis on having conversations around reconciliation, to “leverage the lessons learned in Greenwood.” So, they lay out “rights” of all participants engaged in dialogue—the right to express their beliefs and feelings, define themselves, ask questions, and hold their position; and the “responsibilities” as well—to listen to others non-judgmentally, avoid making assumptions, answer questions, grant respect and evaluate their own values and attitudes.

I thought a lot about both museums, and the events they commemorate, long after I left, and I was grateful for the positive challenge they both put before the visitor: don’t walk away unchanged, don’t just learn something new—learn from it, and act differently going forward.

Both museums make clear that we all have a role to play every day: in dozens of small interactions and significant conversations alike we have a chance to make a difference, and bring hope and healing. Both museums tell the stories of many ordinary individuals who stepped up in the moment and acted with compassion and courage, even in the face of danger and personal risk.

There will always be people who want to tear down others, and even destroy them; but these memorials bear witness that there also will always be people who stand against that destruction, who build up, protect and support others.

Now, today, the world needs more of the latter.

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