A good museum inspires people to look. A superior museum inspires people to look and to speak. So compelling are the exhibits at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center that we believe visitors will not be able to remain silent.
The breaking of silence over the issue of slavery and the social problems that have sprung from it is an enormously important moment in our city's history. Indeed, it could be a national turning point.
For 200 years, Americans have needed a place to speak honestly, openly and safely. The Freedom Center can be that place.
The center has the right message, mission and framework to become a nationally known center for civilized discussion of divisive social issues. Its core history is the Underground Railroad, an inspiring example of how diverse Americans came together for social change. Its core message is that freedom is advanced by positive human effort and that bonds can be broken if people care enough to try.
With its poignant symbol of the light that signified safety for refugees from slavery, the center has found a way to take America's darkest moments and find in them the light of hope.
Let us not waste this moment by viewing the center only as a place to visit. It is a place to stand and to speak.
The center's founders saw its potential as a national forum from the very first. Now it's time for the city and our nation to grasp the opportunity that lies before it. We have the venue for real talk about sensitive issues. Let us be bold and join in the conversation.
City leaders in Memphis, Tenn., have used the National Civil Rights Museum for community forums on crime, taxation and employment equity. The United States Holocaust Museum provides training that challenges every police recruit in Washington, D.C., to examine issues of bigotry and intolerance.
"Museums have long been viewed by the public as safe places and neutral ground," says Edward H. Able Jr., president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Museums. "Now they're used as venues for communities to come together to discuss and debate local issues. I see it everywhere I go."
Now, while the public is still forming its opinion about the center's identity, the Freedom Center should boldly put the welcome mat out for serious talk. Could it help Boone County leaders and community members decide the best response to a recent cross burning? Could it host a panel discussion on the November tax levy renewal for Cincinnati Public Schools? Like the new neighbor on the block who holds an open house, it's never too early to let people know who you are.
A good museum inspires people to look. A superior museum inspires people to look and to speak. The best museums inspire people to look, speak - and listen.
Special section: Tour the Freedom Center
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