Volunteer Spotlight: Beverly Jackson
What inspired you to volunteer at The Center?
A friend actually told me about volunteer opportunities at The Center. As a retired educator, I was looking for volunteer work that was meaningful and had real purpose. I also felt very drawn to social justice issues, and The Center seemed like a perfect fit.
What was your perception of The Center prior to visiting, and how has your perception changed since your experience at The Center?
Prior to visiting The Center, I envisioned a fairly conventional museum with many items that you could only read and even more that you could not touch. Then, I brought my sisters here who were visiting from out of town. We were in The Center for four hours. There was so much to touch, see, listen to and yes, even read. This was a very, very different kind of museum experience. Since becoming a volunteer, I have been able to immerse myself in this extraordinary, interactive place called the Center for Civil and Human Rights. I dare say, there is no other place like it in the country.
What has been the most exciting moment during your experience at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, so far?
So far, my most exciting moment has been the first tour I gave as a docent. I was extremely nervous and terrified I would not do The Center justice. The tour was for a high school group, and it was thrilling to share The Center with them. They were astonished to learn that so many young people were involved in the Civil Rights movement, and that young people continue to make a difference in human rights movements all around the world. The students asked pointed, thought-provoking questions. We had a good time learning together.
I end all of my school tours by telling students that I believe, when it comes to service, The Center forces young people to answer three questions…”What have I done? What am I doing? What am I going to do?”
What is your favorite exhibition and why?
This is such a tough question, however, my favorite exhibition is the Move, Free, Act room. With its striking images and pulsating music, this room celebrates the many victories of human rights struggles throughout the world. At the same time, like so many exhibits at The Center, it pays homage to the ordinary people who have pushed and continue to push for an end to injustice wherever it exists. At the end of my volunteer shift, before I go home, I go to this room and allow the videos there to just spill over me. Move, Free, Act is incredibly inspiring. It is a powerful reminder of work accomplished and work yet to be done.
What do you enjoy most about interacting with visitors of The Center?
The stories. The stories. The stories. I absolutely love hearing the stories so many of our visitors feel compelled to share. Whether it is a personal tale of struggle or a little-known fact about one of our exhibitions, it is a privilege just to listen. In addition, volunteering has given me the opportunity to witness the emotional impact the exhibits have on our guests. For example, the high school boy who breaks down at the lunch counter, the mom who weeps uncontrollably at the portrait of Emmett Till and his mother, or the seniors who are overcome while viewing the stained-glass portraits of the Four Little Girls. One visitor simply asked that I show her the picture of Estela Barnes de Carlotto, leader of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, the group of grandmothers dedicated to finding children who disappeared during the “Dirty War” in Argentina. Upon seeing it, she talked with me for about 15 minutes about that horrific time and the many days she spent marching with Las Abuelas. At these moments the power of The Center is undeniable.
If you could spend time with any leader featured in The Center, who would you choose and why?
I would choose Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., because since volunteering at The Center, I have met a man I never knew before. The Center has introduced me to Martin Luther King, Jr. the activist, the father, the husband, the son, the mentor, the life-long learner. When I speak of Dr. King now, I often get choked up. That never happened before.
In the gallery, Voice to the Voiceless: The Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Collection there is a letter from Dr. King to his wife Coretta, written while he was in Reidsville Prison. It moved me to tears as he lamented about how much he missed her, his children and his life back home, while also acknowledging his need to forge ahead with the work of the movement.
When I am working the March on Washington room, I sometimes catch a glimpse of Dr. King’s picture in the adjacent Letter from the Birmingham Jail exhibit. In that pensive shot I see a man who is steadfast, but vulnerable. So unsure of what lay ahead, but knowing the risk of death was always near. I cannot fathom such personal sacrifice and unconditional love.
I am so happy to be a part of The Center. It restores my soul.