The Mobile Museum of Tolerance is seen on Friday, March 5, 2021, outside of Forest Park Middle School | Alex Rogals, Staff Photographer

“Freedom is not a gift from heaven — you have to fight for it every day.” These words from Simon Wiesenthal are just one of the quotes about freedom and human rights displayed on screens in the Mobile Museum of Tolerance (MMOT), which visited Forest Park last week.

Forest Park middle school students in District 91 were some of the first in the state to experience lessons from the past in the MMOT on March 4 and 5.

The MMOT is a museum on wheels, a collaboration between the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to bring important lessons about civil rights and the Holocaust directly to schools and communities across Illinois. The MMOT website says it was modeled after the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center’s “Tour for Humanity” bus, which was launched in 2013 and has visited schools all across Canada. But the MMOT is the first of its kind of the United States.

“MMOT will utilize innovative technology and interactive lessons to bring its message of tolerance directly to Illinois communities,” reads the website. “With a plan to visit around 150 schools and communities each year, the MMOT hopes to inspire thousands of Illinoisans to stand up to hate and strive toward positive social change.”

On Thursday, D91 middle school students learning remotely watched a remote broadcast of a civil rights presentation from the MMOT, a video the Review watched inside the mobile theater with D91 Principal Tiffany Brunson and Assistant Principal Eric Beltran and several PTO members.

After the video, facilitator Alison Slovin, Midwest director for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, engaged students in a conversation about the video. She shared her own experiences and that of her daughter who have faced prejudice as Jews.

D91 middle students visit the Mobile Museum of Tolerance on March 5. | Alex Rogals, Staff Photographer

Slovin talked about the role bystanders play in issues such as civil rights and discrimination, and Brunson said that in the district, students are taught to be “upstanders,” who defend others in a safe way, always going to an adult if they need help.

On Friday, students who are attending classes in-person three days a week got to visit the museum in person, donning masks and watching a video about the Holocaust. Again, the video presentation was followed up with a discussion.

It’s the follow-up that’s important.

“You can’t teach these concepts in a bubble; they should be followed up by a conversation,” said Suzy Dees, director of professional learning from West 40. “All the things that students think of later, after watching the presentation, is where the real opportunity to learn is.”

“We are very excited about the MMOT coming to FPMS,” said Brunson. “We have such a diverse student population in Forest Park and we must all learn to recognize and appreciate our differences.”

Superintendent Lou Cavallo said the MMOT “is absolutely essential for our community.” He added, “The Mobile Museum of Tolerance (MMOT) visit fits perfectly with our Equity Imperative mission of nurturing dialogue around all issues of inequity.”

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