On Thursday, July 7, I was watching a recorded episode of The Daily Show and decided to do one last Facebook scroll. A friend that lives downtown posted about shots fired at that evening’s protest. I thought to myself “Hmm. That’s interesting.” And then I saw a few more posts and realized that I should perhaps start watching live TV.
You all know what happened next. That night, I turned off the tv around 12:30, stunned and numb and so very, very worried about my city.
When I woke up the next morning, I laid in bed for a while, listening to NPR, scrolling through social media. As I drove into work, I started thinking about how DHV should respond. Because I knew we had to respond in some way.
The problem with becoming a community engaged museum is that when tragedy strikes your community, it hurts a lot more. We’ve worked with a lot of officers to make the neighborhood safer. We host monthly crime watch meetings. We’ve become good friends with various political leaders. And it’s not just “we the museum” but also “me, Melissa.”
When I got to work on Friday, I sent a quick email to staff: we were going to be free that day. And then I posted the following on DHV’s Facebook page:
Today, we are grieving with our entire city over the terrible events that took place last night. We know that many in our neighborhood are directly impacted by these events. Though it feels like such a small gesture, today we’re offering free admission. If you need a place to reflect, we have a beautiful view of the skyline, shady trees, and two donkeys that are happy to give hugs. We love you, Dallas.
I also shared it on my personal page. This one little post garnered more Facebook likes and shares than anything we’ve ever done. Many of my friends, even non-local ones, shared it as well, praising me. Here’s some of what they said:
High School friend: And this is why Dallas is the best. Melissa Prycer I’m sure you had a lot to do with this and I applaud you. What a great place for people to find a little peace.
Book Club Friend: The world is a dark and miserable place, and all we can do is be kinder. Here’s my friend Melissa, doing what she can.
Book Club Friend:
From Dallas – a community resource being the voice of reason. And offering free hugs in the midst of turmoil. Thank you Melissa Prycer! you and your organization are a breath of sanity – for your city, and for the country
All of Friday, I continued to be stunned–not just to the events of Thursday night, but to the response of what I considered to be an obvious and far too small gesture. But no other cultural institution offered free admission as a response. Every other institution seemed to have a fairly standard “thoughts and prayers” response, not one that connected directly to our neighborhood. And people seemed to notice.
I’m not here to call out my local colleagues, many of whom had to close for a few days as the crime scene was processed. But I am here to say this to the field: how sad is it that people are surprised when a history museum responds to current events? Isn’t that part of our job?
Here in Dallas, we’re still grieving and processing. But I am so damn proud of my city right now. Recently, a friend of mine called me a “civic leader,” and when he said that, I twitched a little. Those just aren’t words that feel right for what I’m doing. The contrast between my last few days and what friends like Adam Medrano (our councilman) and Kourtny Garrett (ED of Downtown Dallas, Inc) have been through makes me very glad to be leading a small history museum on the edge of downtown. I’ve at least gotten some sleep.
I confess that I avoided the prayer vigil on Friday and the candlelight vigil last night. I just wasn’t ready to grieve in public with others. But tonight, as usual, we hosted our monthly crime watch meeting. Our awesome officer, Jeanette Weng, was there. Much of the meeting was business as usual, but we had cookies. And we offered hugs, which she gladly accepted. I know I wasn’t the only that teared up a bit tonight.
I will never understand why museums hesitate to become more involved in their communities. But perhaps if we hadn’t had our joint battles about unsheltered homeless or highway design, I wouldn’t still be grieving. If we didn’t host crime watch and neighborhood association meetings, we wouldn’t still be grieving. It may feel safer to remain distant. But if we hadn’t taken these steps, we also wouldn’t be quite so proud of how well our city is handling this tragedy. And we certainly wouldn’t have been prepared to respond when history came to our front door.