Championing the power of one

Special to The Times

As you enter the exhibition, there is a kiosk illustrated with the backs of people -- bystanders looking in on some incident. Moving up to one of the cutouts, you, too, become a bystander.

One by one, photos within are spotlighted: a man shoving a woman against a wall, a beggar on the street, a young child who's lost and forlorn. Image is followed by sound, as recorded voices comment: with curiosity ("What's he doing to her?"), nervous disengagement ("It's none of our business"), compassion ("Do you need help?").

"Every one of us counts, potentially," says Margot Stern Strom, executive director of Facing History and Ourselves, a Boston-based international educational organization. "We can make a difference in our church or synagogue or home or community."

And that's the point of a traveling exhibition from Strom's group, "Choosing to Participate: Facing History and Ourselves," which opened in Boston before moving on to Chicago, Memphis, New York and now Los Angeles, where it's at the Central Library through May 4.

Past the kiosk, the walls are covered with drawings done by local schoolchildren that address issues of poverty, racism and fascism. The rest of the Getty Gallery, where the exhibition is installed, is given over to retelling three stories from our recent past that illustrate how people can make a difference. There is the story of Jesus Colon, a Puerto Rican writer, who remained uninvolved in an attack he witnessed, fearing his race might label him the criminal. Another narrative focuses on a series of hate crimes in Billings, Mont., in the early 1990s. And finally, there is the story of Elizabeth Eckford, the most visible of the "Little Rock Nine," a group of black teenagers who attempted to break the race barrier by entering Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957.

Eckford, 15 at the time, was taunted, then stopped by the National Guard until a lone woman, Grace Lorch, stepped from the crowd and escorted her to safety. Eckford's experience made national news -- and eventually President Eisenhower sent the Army to escort the black students to class. The exhibition also makes clear that there can be serious consequences for such acts. Eckford's mother, a teacher, was soon fired from her job at the state school for the blind.

A local component, "L.A. Stories: The Power of One," is in the First Floor Gallery, with photographs of 28 honorees who have made an "extraordinary impact through their daily choices."


'Choosing to Participate'

Where: Richard J. Riordan Central Library, 630 W. 5th St., Los Angeles

When: Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 1-5 p.m. Free.

Ends: May 4


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