The award-winning 360º cinematic virtual reality experience “Traveling While Black” is coming to the Ware Center on Sept. 27. The 20-minute immersive production examines racism in the United States and places the viewer in conversations exploring the ways we understand race in America and highlighting the urgent need to not only remember the past but to learn from it.
The VR experience focuses on the “Green Book,” a travel guide published during the segregation era, which highlighted restaurants and other businesses that would serve African Americans. The “Green Book” was meant to combat uncertainty toward having access to food, lodging, fuel and other travel accommodations that others may take for granted.
Academy Award-winning African American documentary director Roger Ross Williams filmed the piece at Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C., a restaurant first established in 1958 that historically has served as a safe haven for traveling African Americans.
Assistant Director of Campus and Community Engagement Barry Kornhauser says that viewers should expect anything but a typical documentary. “Viewers will sit at the Ware Center in an installation recreating a portion of Ben’s Chili Bowl, where they will don Oculus Go headsets to virtually meet some of the diner’s patrons as they reflect on their personal experiences regarding race relations in the United States. Viewers can expect a truly unique, powerful and profound experience.”
Tickets to the event are free, but online registration is required. There will be multiple showings a day from Sept. 27 through Oct. 25, and a total of 12 people can register for each show, or 24 in student groups. The experience is recommended for ages 12 and up.
“Such events have something truly valuable to offer both students and the general public of Lancaster,” says Kornhauser. “The project will examine the safe spaces that exist in our communities and explore those that still need to be created. We felt this was important enough to have ‘Traveling While Black’ run for a full month, four times a day, six days a week, and to offer it free of charge to eliminate any financial barriers to participation.”
“During the Green Book years, Lancaster hosted three welcoming sites, so there is a real historical community connection to this project,” says Kornhauser. “And though an official Welcoming City today, there is still much to be examined in regard to reducing and eliminating the barriers that invite people of all circumstances and backgrounds to become full participants in community life here in Lancaster and beyond.”
Kornhauser has also organized a series of eight stand-alone Community Conversations that will cover different related topics, including “Traveling While Black & Queer,” “Traveling While Disabled,” “Traveling While Undocumented,” “Traveling While Black Through the Education System” and more, with accompanying opening and closing receptions on September 28 and October 25.
“For these Conversations, we have been blessed with a veritable ‘who’s who’ of Lancaster – individuals who serve and/or represent segments of our diverse marginalized local communities,” says Kornhauser. “These complementary Conversations are intended to encourage dialogue and thought about both past and current-day barriers to ‘traveling’ through everyday life faced by the BIPOC community, but also the LGBTQ+, undocumented and disability communities, exploring complications encountered not just in movement, but in civic life, education, business, the arts and more.”
Some of those guests include State Representative Ismail Smith-Wade-El, Lancaster NAACP President Blanding Watson, CEO of Alliance for Health Equity Kevin Ressler, CEO of the African American Historical Society of South-Central PA Dr. Leroy Hopkins, President and CEO of Bright Side Opportunities Center Willonda McCloud, Lancaster Poet Laureate Evita Colon, Executive Director of the Disability Empowerment Center Jacklyn Nagle, President and CEO of LancasterHistory Dr. Tom Ryan and many more, including MU’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Carlos Wiley in conversation with Gretchel Hathaway, Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Franklin & Marshall, and Kesha Morant Williams, Senior Advisor of Diversity, Equity & Belonging at Elizabethtown College. Moderating these Conversations will be Lenwood Sloan and Marquis Lupton.
“By engaging in this cinematic virtual reality experience, you can expect to hear from Black people about the long history of the travel restrictions they experienced in the United States and how this impacted Black growth,” says Carlos Wiley, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Millersville. “You will also get a better understanding of how the ‘Green Book’ work aided in the creation of safe spaces for Black people to travel across the country in order to experience freedom.”
Wiley explains that hosting events like this is important to encouraging unity and upholding the University’s EPPIIC values. “Hosting ‘Traveling While Black’ shows our commitment to build understanding, knowledge and moving the University towards inclusive excellence. All who take advantage of this opportunity will be able to gain respect for the struggle of Black Americans.”
“Having experiences like this at MU is important so we can help to build understanding of experiences of different groups of people so we can better relate to others,” he concludes. “I hope that many people from MU and the Lancaster community will take advantage of this opportunity to have a new and exciting experience.”
For a full list of showtimes and for registration, visit https://artsmu.com/buy-tickets/