My children are older, so I rarely visit children’s museums these days. The Terra-cotta Warrior exhibit drew us to the renowned Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and since we had to buy a general admission ticket to see the Chinese warriors, we decided to explore.
We bypassed most of the madcap areas that I associate with children’s museums. Those areas where children are encouraged to interact, though I’ve rarely seen them do so with any purpose. They run, scream, jump, shoot water, splash, scream some more, cry, climb on top of anything in their path and see how many decibel levels they can create in one mad swirl of toddlers versus nine-year-olds. It is a headache in the making. And the Indy Children’s Museum had plenty of areas like this.
Luckily, they had a few calmer areas, too, with truly educational exhibits. Not surprisingly, there were few children in these exhibits. (They were busy splashing in water and running through the maze of mirrors.) It’s too bad for them, because there was one exhibit in particular that was extraordinary and worth the price of admission all by itself. It was an exhibition of three children whose lives had an impact on the world: Anne Frank, Ruby Sparks, and Ryan White.
I have to be honest; I’d almost forgotten about Ryan White. But as soon as I saw his picture, his story and the fear and alarm surrounding AIDS in the 1980’s came rushing back. For those unfamiliar with his story, Ryan was an Indiana boy who contracted AIDS through medication for his hemophilia. People were terrified of him. Parents pulled their children out of school and demanded that he be removed from the classroom. He was expelled and fought valiantly to educate people on AIDS awareness, which made world news. Another school system allowed Ryan into their schools and some of the museum displays included notes from his new classmates, welcoming him. It was truly touching.
Each of the three exhibits included a room related to that person. In Ryan White’s case, they’d recreated his bedroom and it was a poignant reminder that he was just a boy, leading a typical teenage life until this tragedy befell him.
The same sort of school discrimination happened to Ruby Sparks, too. She bravely marched into a Louisiana classroom alongside federal marshalls as adults screamed obscenities and threw things at her. She was shunned so much that hers became a classroom of one. Her teacher abandoned her post at the front of the room and instead taught Ruby 1:1 at a desk next to hers for an entire year. That classroom setting is the museum room dedicated to Ruby’s story. A live performance took place in the classroom every few hours, featuring a federal marshall who described what it was like to walk young Ruby into school every day. It definitely made you think about the bravery of that little girl and her parents.
Most people are familiar with Anne Frank’s story, but a one-woman live performance in a pretend attic room brought her spirit to life. We saw a bookcase that opened and then video footage of what that space in the Anne Frank house actually looks like. A young woman came on stage and talked about the joy and hope and the minutiae of her days. Like Anne herself, she stuck with her stories of hope. It made you realize that Anne was just a normal young girl trapped in the horrific circumstances of her time.
I absolutely loved this Power of Children exhibit and could have spent the entire day in these rooms. The displays were well-crafted and appealing to both children and adults. The live performances was a tremendous addition and brought these young lives to life. I think the exhibition sends a powerful message to children that they can have a strong impact on the world. I’d love to see this exhibit expand even further to include more children whose stories of courage and hope have touched millions of lives.
Who would you include if they added more children’s stories to this exhibit?
I remember Ryan White — vividly. He changed the world’s view that AIDS was a “gay” disease into a human disease.
I know. His display was hard-hitting and gave me chills. I remember it all so vividly, too. My daughter had no idea who he was. But she also doesn’t equate AIDS with being a gay disease or a death warrant. Times have changed. (Thank God!)
That sounds like an amazing exhibition – engaging, powerful, and well thought out.
It really was. I haven’t seen anything like it and loved how they showcased the courage these three children had.
Awesome exhibit for the kids! The only one I can think of is “The Museum of Tolerance” in L.A., but I visited my first time in high school. If I had been younger, it probably would have freaked me out.
I still have to see that exhibit. I must admit, younger children probably weren’t as affected by these stories as people my age and older who lived through some of this. We don’t see it as just history; it was a current event.
I did not know about Ryan White. Seems like an amazing place to visit. In South Africa we have the Hector Pieterson Musuem. Thank u Juliann for th post.
Sadly, I did not know who Hector Pieterson was. I looked it up and am so sorry to hear of his story. I’m sharing the site here:
Thank you, Cindy, for bringing another child’s story to us so that we may not forget him.
Thank you Juliann for sharing Hector’s story with the world.
I don’t think I know too much about Ruby.
I love the concept of presenting these brave children who kept up the good fight despite their terrible circumstances. Great role models, and a good window into history as well.
Ruby was a brave 6-year-old who was one of the first to attend desegregated schools in Louisiana. The other parents pulled their children out of school rather than have them attend with a black girl, so Ruby ended up as a classroom of one. She had to be escorted by federal marshall into school as people yelled and threw things at her. 😦 Despite all that, she was an excellent student, but lonely.
Bravo to her. I can’t quite get my head around someone pulling their children out of a school just because there’s a black student in the class, but then I suppose attitudes were pretty deeply ingrained in those days and hard to shake. Thankfully there were some brave enough to challenge them.
I didn’t make an effort to visit this museum when I was in Indy, but I would give it a shot after hearing about some of these exhibits. I watched a documentary on Ryan White recently. His story is definitely one everyone should hear.
No, it’s not a place you’d think to stop unless you were traveling with children. I was very glad we did. There were definitely enough exhibits to attract adults, but who’d have guessed?
Excellent post, Juliann, children sometimes make us forget everything stupid and focus on what’s incredibly, terribly important. Thanks!♥♥♥;^)
All I can think of are those young kids with disability but do incredible things. Like that girl with one arm who is a surfing champion.
Incredible stories. How they’re influential in such young age.
Oh, yes. She would be a great add to their inspirational stories. Good idea!