If you haven’t heard, the Center broke ground on June 27. We had a great time celebrating with hundreds of people at three events over two days. As the dust settles I’m aware of all of the heralded and more subtle gains we made, and am, as ever, grateful. Today on the blog, a few observations from behind the scenes at Groundbreaking:
-Attending the shovel ceremony was a priority for many Civil Rights Movement veterans. As the sun bore down on the Pemberton Place, the elder statespeople of the Movement kept alighting from golf carts in their summer best and streaming in, even as the program progressed and was ending. It was staggering to see their resolve to be there and their jovial support of our day. One by one donors, activists, and supporters moved over, gave up seats and provided shade for the roll call of heroes. It’s impossible to know if your outreach is reaching until a moment like that. Behind the scenes, the generational interplay, particularly at the shovel ceremony, was something to behold and served as affirmation that our model is right in lots of important ways. One of my favorite moments from the day was walking Evelyn Lowery back to her seat after the ceremonial shovel photos. The Center was her idea and there we were, navigating the crowds and heat, sharing in the birth of the building. It was something.
-The time capsule activity, as led by Jill Savitt (who will share some of her reflections on the process in a guest blog next week), was the unexpected moment of the entire celebration. It came together just days in advance but emerged as the crowd favorite. Jill delivered stellar ideas for it. We knew leading 700 people through an interactive human rights exercise in middle of a workday would be a challenge, and were pleased when the audience engaged. Little did we know that Jill’s comments would silence the room and the rush to include wishes, intentions, thoughts and items would fill the capsule. Bernice King was kind enough to lend her support and to place a copy of her mother’s book in the capsule in a moment so powerful it would have been impossible to script. We’re still getting emails and calls to see if it’s too late to include written wishes and dreams. We claim that people are hungry for a place like the Center and that time capsule full of raw emotional connection is tangible proof.
-Technology and social media connected supporters across the miles. We were deliberate about making sure to give our virtual supporters something to grab onto in the festivities, and we were graciously rewarded with expressions of excitement across the miles. From launching a Center twitter feed in the days prior to the events (@Rightsctr), to a mobile giving site at the gatherings (www.rightsgift.org), to posting original videos on our YouTube channel in honor of the occasions, we were committed to being active in the virtual world and it was a big success. Behind the scenes, we all got a little giddy to receive a donation of ad space in Times Square from our friends at Siemens. New Yorkers got a taste of our institution and our supporters were treated to seeing our name up in lights on June 25 in honor of Groundbreaking.
-Diversity, inclusion and sustainability drove the planning and won the day. Groundbreaking took six intense months to plan, and our guiding principles were that each moment be marked by inclusion of a broad spectrum of points of view, we visually demonstrate the diversity in our work, and nothing about this should be excessive, wasteful or irresponsible. Behind the scenes, thousands of micro-decisions were made to, for instance, provide water outdoors and ample recycling containers, not air condition the speaker tent, feed everyone a vegetarian lunch, have interfaith invocations, and balance the speaking agendas between men and women. There is always more to do in this area, but we’re proud of what we achieved and look forward to more time and larger scale opportunities at our opening celebrations to demonstrate what we’ve learned.
-Finally, you never know whose life you will touch in an endeavor like this. For months we had two venues on hold for Speak Truth To Power. We ultimately went with the Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State and they were wonderful, as always. One of the little known clauses in their performance agreement is that ten seats are reserved in the house for their use. A guest of a guest in one of those seats was an asylum seeker from Congo. He wrote to his friend, who forwarded it on to us, that the performance gave voice to a set of experiences he thought no one understood, and that he is forever validated and changed by having seen it. His determination for a better life was bolstered by the performance. I appreciate the set of interrelated circumstances that led him to us, and us to him that day. That gentleman is the emblem of our celebrations and this work.