PHILADELPHIA — The American Friends Service Committee is celebrating 100 years of nonviolent activism with an exhibition, “Waging Peace,” that showcases the group’s accomplishments while also illustrating work that remains to be done.
General Secretary Shan Cretin hopes both aspects of the exhibit inspire visitors.
“We don’t want to just be looking backward, (but) a lot of the issues that are so urgent today — how we treat immigrants, racial justice issues — are issues we have been working on for nearly our entire history,” Cretin said. “We don’t believe peace is a destination. We believe it’s a path. We always have to be working toward peace and justice in our lives.”
Founded by Quakers during World War I, the organization has been promoting peace and justice as an expression of faith in action. The centennial exhibit, on display at the African American Museum of Philadelphia through April 30, is divided into four categories: “Ending Discrimination,” ”Addressing Prisons,” ”Just Economies,” and “Immigrants Rights.”
“Ending Discrimination” includes two 8-by-8-foot photos, one showing shows a group of civil activists led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. facing a wall of police officers in the 1960s, the other taken in Baltimore in 2015 after Freddie Gray died in police custody. There’s also a first-person account from a former committee staffer who resisted Japanese internment during World War II.
In “Addressing Prisons,” visitors can crowd onto a floor mat that mimics the size and shape of the 5-by-7-foot solitary confinement cell that committee employee Ojore Lutalo occupied for more than 20 years.
“I really wanted to tell personal stories,” said exhibit coordinator and content developer Elizabeth Tinker, an independent museum professional.
“We want to encourage discussion,” she said.
One interactive feature highlights the challenges facing immigrants. Set up like a giant board game, visitors allow rolls of oversize dice to determine citizenship paths. Millionaires and star athletes have a much easier time than those who have family members already in the U.S.
Asylum seekers with proof of persecution have a much easier time immigrating than those without proof — but it’s still not fast or easy. Tinker noted that this one category also illustrates why many people enter the U.S. illegally: What parent wouldn’t risk violating the law and leaving their home country if they feared their children were in danger there? she asked.
“This isn’t telling people what they should think but giving them the information and opportunities to see videos of immigrants talking about why they’re here and the challenges they face,” Cretin said.
One of the final displays invites visitors to use a magnet to mark places on a world or local map where they’ve taken positive action. Visitors are also encouraged to contact the Quaker group via social media later if they “wage peace” somewhere so the map can be updated.
“It’s not just about learning about the past,” Tinker said. “It’s about changing the future.”