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JMC students challenge racism one child at a time

A new exhibit is taking shape at The Wonder Workshop Childrens Museum in


Manhattan. Sarah Burns, public relations senior, and Katie Ellingsworth, mass communications
digital media senior, are working with Wonder Workshop to develop an interactive exhibit,
chronicling the history of various races, set to open to the general public on Feb. 26.
The Wonder Workshop provides an environment for children to embrace curiosity and
creativity, often visiting local historical and geological sites. Since 1997, Wonder Workshop has
led tours of Underground Railroad sites located in Riley and Wabaunsee counties. Richard Pitts,
director of Wonder Workshop, wanted to show how people in history have worked together to
accomplish things, despite adversity. However, Pitts felt more could be done to educate children
about race.
Our history is always separate; black and white with nothing else, Pitts said.
To overcome this error in history, Pitts and Burns are working on timelines that feature
the histories of European Americans and African Americans, but also Latin Americans, Native
Americans and Asian Americans. Wonder Workshop will feature these timelines in an exhibit
that also includes a documentary made by Burns and Ellingsworth. The documentary will
include interviews with students and administrators from Manhattan High School and students
from third-grade to sixth-grade at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School.
I think race is a topic that lays dormant in our daily lives. Even in a community like
Manhattan where we dont see it everyday, its still here, Ellingsworth. Showing how different
people perceive race throughout our community and facing the topic head on will benefit the
community in general by making us more aware, she said.
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Pitts originally decided to do the exhibit after he realized children visiting the museum
could not define what a Native American was, but rather identified with the name Indian. His
resolve to do the exhibit was strengthened after the controversial events of the Michael Brown
case in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked national debate about racism.
We wanted to do an exhibit that shares how and why racism was started, but also how
people have challenged it, Pitts said. The title of the exhibit is Beyond the Wall: Coming
Together as One, The Human Race, he said.
Burns and Ellingsworth agreed the interview process was an eye-opening experience.
Despite asking each person the same questions, the responses were as varied as the skin tone of
each respondent. Each person, regardless of age or race, had experienced racism in some
capacity. Both Burns and Ellingsworth were surprised at the level of awareness each interviewee
had, particularly the younger ones, regarding race and how it affected their daily lives.
I think the point of this is to put yourself in others shoes, and to appreciate other
cultures, recognizing that were all the same, Burns said.
As JMC students, Burns and Ellingsworth were able to put what they have learned in
class into practice. Burns has been able to use her knowledge of press release writing and social
media managing to inform people about not only this exhibit, but also many other events Wonder
Workshop has put on. Ellingsworths experience with video editing has proved beneficial in
creating the documentary.

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A lot of my courses through the digital media department have helped me because I
learned different equipment and interview techniques, Ellingsworth said. She was able to use
equipment on loan from JMC to record the interviews.
If you say youre going to do something, do it to the best of your ability, Pitts said. He
believes that Burns and Ellingsworth have been remarkable in adhering to that ideology. Burns
interned for Wonder Workshop over the summer, fell in love with the work and never stopped
volunteering. Burns and Ellingsworth have done all of the work on a volunteer basis and
therefore are not compensated. Burns says its not about the money.
I love being a part of something greater than myself, Burns said.
When you work with people who care about kids, they all have the quality of
selflessness, Pitts said.
Pitts said the greatest challenge has been funding because Wonder Workshop relies
primarily on donations, volunteers and grants. The five-year goal of Wonder Workshop is to
expand into a bigger, more open space. Wonder Workshop is currently in a relatively small space,
a house on Fourth Street with mint green trim.
We are the little childrens museum that could, Pitts said.
And the students of JMC are helping to make that happen.
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