Actor, Activist George Takei Entertains and Enlightens at Upstander Speaker Series

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George Takei (Photo: Amanda Lynn Photography)

George Takei took center stage Thursday night at Southern Methodist University’s McFarlin Auditorium in front of a sold out crowd of nearly 3,000 people. Presented by the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance and SMU Embrey Human Rights Program, Takei spoke honestly about his childhood experiences living in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II. He also spoke about the challenges of remaining a closeted gay actor at the height of his popularity playing Lieutenant Sulu on the Star Trek series.

Takei was five years old when he and his family were forced to relocate from their home in Los Angeles to internment camps in Arkansas and northern California. He described being transported by train and seeing families wave from behind barbed wire fences when they arrived at the camp. His childhood innocence protected him from the devastating reality he later understood his parents had endured.

“For my parents to take their three young children into a horse stall and have to live there for a couple of months while the barbed-wire concentration camps are being built,” said Takei. “It must have been a humiliating and painful experience for [my parents].”

His family returned to Los Angeles after the war. Takei’s resilience and idealism found a path to the Civil Rights movement led by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His father played a part in instilling Takei with a sense of activism and pride in the American democracy.

“I learned about American democracy from the man in our family who suffered the most, bore the burden and the anguish of that imprisonment,” said Takei referring to his father. “…my father was the one that said we have to be actively engaged in our society.”

Takei’s activist spirit made him an excellent choice as the first speaker for the Museum’s 2017 Upstander Speaker Series. Recently, he has vocalized his concerns regarding the first weeks of President Trump’s term, such as the executive order he signed banning Muslim refugees from entering the U.S.

“This story of the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during the second World War is very relevant to our times today.”

Sitting in the audience near Museum President and CEO Mary Pat Higgins, sat George’s husband and partner of over 30 years, Brad Takei.

As a gay actor in the 1960’s, Takei quickly learned that his sexual orientation could end his career before it even began. He spent the next few decades in constant fear of exposure, and he cautiously played the role of a heterosexual male on and off screen.

When Takei chose to come out to the public as a homosexual, his career continued to flourish. A fierce supporter of LGBTQ rights, Takei fought for marriage equality and continues to stand up against hatred and prejudice.

“You have to actively participate [in our society] to change it, to make it better.”

We are grateful that the Upstander Speaker Series is supported by The Dallas Morning News and sponsors for this event included the Orchid Giving Circle. Thank you Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber of Commerce for being our community partner.

– Janet Montealvo, Marketing Coordinator, Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

George Takei: From 2300 to Zero Empty Seats (Oh, myyy!)

George Takei, who played Lieutenant Sulu on the original Star Trek series, is coming to Dallas to speak. He is the first of three Upstander Speakers invited by the Dallas Holocaust Museum to share their stories in 2017. We produced this event in partnership with Southern Methodist University’s Embrey Human Rights Program (EHRP).

Four weeks ago the Museum and EHRP had a venue with 2300 seats to fill. In four weeks, without traditional marketing, we have zero seats left to fill–we’ve beaten our ticket sales projection.  Why?

Yes. Takei is famous for his role of Lieutenant Sulu. And, yes. That’s a part our success.  But, there’s more.  There are five key factors.

  1. Partnering. We partnered with SMU’s Embry Human Rights Program.  This partnership included splitting costs for the event and inviting the SMU community, including thousands of college students, to the event.
  2. There’s an important and fascinating message here. George Takei broke racial barriers in Hollywood.  He also speaks about his family’s time in Japanese-American internment camps during WWII.
  3. Activism. Our mission is to teach the history of the Holocaust and advance human rights to combat prejudice, hatred, and indifference.  Mr. Takei is highly visible as an activist for LGBTQ rights making the event appealing across multiple generations.
  4. Social Media. The level of social engagement on Facebook and Twitter was terrific, generated by the interesting topics Mr. Takei will cover and also by his high profile and incredibly active presence on social media.
  5. Footprint. Our public footprint has grown dramatically over the last five years.  Several years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to hear the question,  “Dallas has a Holocaust Museum?” Our goal is the complete elimination of that question from Texans’ minds through North Central Texas , and we’ve made amazing strides.  Our email database has doubled along with our social media engagement.

In summation, the successful formula looks like this: well-known speaker + strong partner + broadly-appealing message + social media engagement + increased visibility = successful event.

Visit DallasHolocaustMuseum.org to read about the other 2017 Upstander speakers.

We are grateful to our sponsors and community partners:

Liz and Tom Halsey

Orchid Giving Circle

The Dallas Morning News

Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber of Commerce

 

We are thankful for the continued support of our board and members, as well as the general public.

For Upstander Speaker Mike Kim, Saving Lives at the North Korean Border Required that He Risk Losing His Own

Mike Kim
Mike Kim

“You have to get through the gate. If you get through the gate, you will be safe. Inside is sovereign ground.”

Humanitarian Mike Kim was preparing four teenagers to break into the British consulate in Shanghai, but the kids were distracted. They’d never been to a McDonald’s restaurant before.

One of the kids was playing a game on Kim’s phone. He couldn’t put it down.

“Are you listening to me?” The four North Koreans looked up at him, one with a straw still in her mouth.

“That’s when it hit me,” said Kim, speaking in front of a packed audience at the Communities Foundation of Texas on Thursday, November 17, “these were just kids. They didn’t understand how dangerous it was to gain their freedom.”

Kim, a human trafficking expert and award-winning author, was the Museum’s Upstander Speaker for November—an event sponsored by The Dallas Morning News.

Kim’s story began on New Year’s Day, 2003, when he arrived in China after giving up his successful financial planning business in Chicago. A graduate of Georgetown and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Kim had decided to forego a promising future in business and instead do the unthinkable: smuggle North Koreans out of a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world.

While living near the China-North Korea border, Kim operated undercover as a North Korean taekwondo student training under two well-known masters from Pyongyang. From there, he used a 6,000-mile underground railroad to lead many North Korean refugees and sex trafficking victims to safety in Southeast Asia.

“The underground railroad used during American slavery was an inspiration,” said Kim. Centuries later and half-way across the globe, the methods for a traveler to skirt authority and travel discreetly remained the same.

And of course, danger lurked wherever he went. “Getting caught by Chinese authorities was one thing,” said Kim, “but if North Korean authorities found out what you were doing, they would send assassins to China to kill you.”

Avoiding human traffickers and drug smugglers was daunting. Kim used the same paths the criminals used, and there were many close calls, but he took comfort knowing that he would be reclaiming the underground system for righteous purposes.

When Kim and the four North Korean kids left McDonald’s that day and arrived just outside the British consulate, they saw Chinese guards milling around the front gate. “When I give you the word,” he told them, “I want you to run through the gate as fast as you can. If the guards come across the line and try to pull you back, you’re allowed to kick and scream. Do whatever you can to stay on sovereign the ground.”

The guards turned away for a moment, and Kim gave the kids the signal. They sprinted for the gate. Three of them had made it through the gates when the guards heard the commotion and ran back to their posts. They crossed the line illegally and grabbed the fourth kid as she passed onto the sovereign ground. The guards yanked on her, but she shook free and got away just before they could pull her back over the line.

They had made it to freedom.

Years later, after the kids had resettled in South Korea, Kim got a call. They wanted to meet up with him. “Where do you want to meet?” he asked. They didn’t hesitate.

“McDonald’s.”

Mike Kim’s memoir, Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World’s Most Repressive Country, describes his harrowing experiences at the China-North Korea border. Kim is also the founder of Crossing Borders, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing humanitarian assistance to North Korean refugees. Crossing Borders organizers have testified before Congress on the issue of counteracting human trafficking in China, and the organization regularly contributes to the U.S. State Department’s “Annual Trafficking in Persons Report.”

Be sure to join us on December 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Museum for the film screening, The Long Way Home, the 1997 Academy Award-winning documentary directed by Mark Jonathan Harris that focuses on the post-war period from 1945-1948 and the plight of tens of thousands of Jewish survivors and refugees as they reclaimed their place in the world. Rare archival footage—stills, newsreels, and interviews—was used to complete the film. The screening is free but an RSVP is required through Eventbrite.

-McGuire Boles for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

 

Hope for Humanity: Human Rights Initiative of North Texas

hrilogoHuman rights is the reason America was created, say Betsy Healy and Bill Holston of the Human Rights Initiative (HRI) of North Texas.

The right to asylum—under which another sovereign authority, such as the United States, may protect a person persecuted by their country—is one of the most important and urgent of rights. The right belongs to all people under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by world governments in 1948 in response to the Holocaust.

Continue reading “Hope for Humanity: Human Rights Initiative of North Texas”

For the Chief Rabbi of Poland, the “Spark of the Jewish Soul” Reignites the Jewish Community in Country Decimated by the Holocaust

Rabbi Michael Schudrich
Rabbi Michael Schudrich

In 1939, Poland was home to a thriving Jewish community of 3.5 million people—folks who made their households and livelihoods in cities, villages and farms across the vast country.

Six years later, barely 300,000 Jews survived in Poland.

The Holocaust—and the Nazi’s Polish-based death camps—resulted in the murder of 3.2 million Jews from Poland, some 90 percent of the country’s Jewish population.

Repercussions of this crime against humanity continue today, but there is renewed hope in Poland for Jews. And Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the American-born Chief Rabbi of Poland, may well be the No. 1 reason why.

Rabbi Schudrich was the special guest of the Museum’s Upstander Speaker Series on June 4 at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas. Appointed Chief Rabbi of Poland in 2004, he has played a central role in the country’s Jewish Renaissance. Indeed, since the fall of Communism in 1989, a growing number of Poles have learned of their Jewish roots, and Rabbi Schudrich is the person they often turn to for guidance.

“We cannot change the number of Jews who were murdered in Poland,” Rabbi Schudrich told the crowd of more than 250 at the JCC. “But, we can change the number of Jews who are out there and have yet to discover their identity.”

Today, about 25,000 Jews call Poland their home. As Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Schudrich spends much of his time counseling people who have discovered—or who are trying to determine whether—they are, in fact, Jewish.

After World War II, most Jews living in Poland who survived the Holocaust left the country—many to Israel—and those who remained were forced to hide their Jewish identities under Soviet Communism.

For Jews living in Poland, “From 1939 to 1989, everything that happens tells you it’s not safe to share your Jewish identity with your children and grandchildren,” Rabbi Schudrich said. “ But in the last 26 years (since the fall of Communism), we’re seeing these children and grandchildren have their hidden secrets now revealed because it is safe—that they are, in fact, Jewish, and there is great hope and optimism.”

These revelations of newly found Jewish identity—Rabbi Schudrich called it the discovery of “the spark of the Jewish soul”—are transforming lives and, albeit slowly, Poland itself. Rabbi Schudrich was one of three Jewish leaders in Poland recently awarded prestigious Bene Merito Medals in recognition of their actions in promoting Poland abroad.

Born in New York City, Rabbi Schudrich attended Jewish day schools there and graduated from Stony Brook University in 1977 with a Religious Studies major and received an MA in History from Columbia University in 1982. He received Conservative smicha (rabbinical ordination) from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and later, an Orthodox smicha through Yeshiva University from Rabbi Moshe Tendler. He served as rabbi of the Jewish Community of Japan from 1983 to 1989 before moving to Poland in 1992.

A rising level of anti-Semitism is an issue throughout Europe, Rabbi Schudrich said, but Poland is making great strides in building strong Jewish-Catholic relationships. “I prefer to emphasize what’s working in Poland,” he said. “Good things are happening, and I am an optimist at heart.”

Be sure to join us for our next Upstander Speaker Series on October 15 when Lieutenant-General Roméo Antonius Dallaire, a Canadian humanitarian, author and retired senator and general, will be the special guest. Dallaire served as Force Commander of UNAMIR, the ill-fated United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda between 1993 and 1994, and attempted to stop the genocide that was being waged by Hutu extremists against Tutsis and Hutu moderates.

The Upstander Speaker Series is sponsored by Real Time Resolutions and is supported by The Dallas Morning News, G&H Ventures, LLC and Humanities Texas. This project was made possible through a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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And, don’t miss out on seeing the Museum’s Special Exhibit, “The Wartime Escape,” which chronicles Margaret and H.A. Rey’s (creators of Curious George) escape from the Nazis. The exhibit closes on June 20.

-Chris Kelley for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

 

For Michael Sam and America, History That Moves All of Us Forward

Michael Sam
Michael Sam

The yellow double triangle, with an appearance like that of the Star of David, and the pink triangle—Rosa Winkel in German—were part of the complex color-coded Nazi concentration camp badges. The yellow was used to identify Jews; the pink was used to identify male prisoners who were sent there because they were homosexuals.

Between 1933 and 1945, about 100,000 German men were arrested as “criminal” homosexuals and about 50,000 were convicted and sent to prison. After 1942, an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 German homosexuals were sent to concentration camps where an unknown number of them died.

Indeed, the hatred practiced by the Nazi regime—responsible for the systematic murder of six million Jews and five million others during the Holocaust—was the first thought of Michael Sam, who made history in 2014 as the first openly gay man drafted into the NFL.

Sam, who is currently appearing on ABC-TV’s Dancing With The Stars while he awaits what he hopes will be another chance to play in the NFL, spoke to a sold-out crowd of 200 at a special Museum’s Upstander Speaker Series event held at the Communities Foundation of Texas auditorium on March 26.

“The Holocaust is probably the most absolute worst crime against humanity,” began Sam, 25. “This event is nothing we should ever forget, and the work that you all do here is absolutely critical. We must remain diligent to make sure nothing like it ever happens again. Against the backdrop of your work, I’m not sure there’s anything else I can say that compares.”

Introduced by WFAA-TV Sports Director and Anchor Dale Hansen—whose “Hansen Unplugged” commentary on the prejudice Sam faced when Sam came out as a gay man generated international news coverage and a high-profile appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show last year—Sam continued:

“Ever since I came out about a year ago, people have called me a hero and courageous. For the record, I do not consider myself either. I was just simply owning my truth. My name is Michael Sam and I’m a person of passion and intensity. I am a football player, a friend, a son, a fiancée, and I am a gay man.”

“The courageous heroes are the many people, especially the youth of today, who are being bullied or harmed, both physically and psychologically, everyday because of their race, religion, or sexuality. They have the courage to go out every single day and face all that they must and pursue their dreams no matter what the obstacles.”

But, Sam said, he can relate to these youth. Growing up the seventh of eight children in Hitchcock, Texas, along the Gulf Coast, Sam faced a tough childhood filled with adversity and suffering.

“I had brothers who bullied me, and I had a family who wasn’t always there for me,” Sam said. “Football gave me everything I have today. It gave me the structure I needed in my life, it gave me my teenage years, it gave me the chance to show off my athletic ability, and most importantly it gave me the opportunity to attend the University of Missouri. My friends and teammates became my family, and football became my sanctuary.”

But he wasn’t just any football player. He was a standout player for the Mizzou Tigers. At the end of his senior season, Sam was named the Southeastern Conference co-Defensive Player of the Year and a member of the All-SEC First Team. He was also named a semifinalist for three other major college football awards.

Early projections had Sam going in the third or fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft. Then Sam came out as a gay man—something his accepting Mizzou teammates already knew and hadn’t cared about. They knew him as an exceptional performer and teammate.

But when draft-day came, it seemed as if the NFL wasn’t as accepting of Sam’s talent. He was the 249th player taken out of 256 drafted. When ESPN TV cameras captured his emotional response to being drafted by the St. Louis Rams—a lifelong dream that he celebrated by kissing his boyfriend (and now fiancée), Vito Cammisano—it didn’t go over so well with some past and current NFL players who took to social media to spew prejudice and discrimination.

Sam made his professional football debut in a preseason game on Aug. 8 against the New Orleans Saints. In four NFL preseason games with the Rams, Sams made 11 tackles and three sacks, including a game-leading six tackles in the final game. Yet, on Aug. 30, the Rams cut Sam. Within days, the Dallas Cowboys had added Sam to their practice squad. On Oct. 21, he was cut again. He is hopeful that he will play in the NFL one day soon

Sam said, “I am proud to be able to play a small part in the NFL and LGBT history by being the first openly gay man to enter into the league. But it is not what I set out to do, and I’m not done yet. I truly believe we are making the world a better place and more tolerant place. I have been welcomed into locker rooms, meeting rooms, and living rooms.”

Sam has received the ESPY’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award and the Human Rights Campaign’s Upstander Award, and he has been named a finalist for Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year.

Meantime, Sam said, his focus will remain on helping youth of today accept themselves for who they are and on teaching the moral and ethical response to hatred, prejudice and indifference for the benefit of all humanity—the mission of the Museum.

“Hatred and violence against LGBT Americans is wrong, just as hatred and violence against black Americans is wrong, just as hatred and violence against Jewish Americans is wrong,” Sam said.

“The moment we let hatred and violence go unchecked in our society, we become weaker as a people. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to push back, to stop prejudice, when we see it.”

“I am proud to stand in this room with so many people committed to this cause to do just that. Despite all the incredible strides we have made in the last century or so, recent events have proven to us that more work needs to be done. I issue all of us a clear and direct challenge: let’s answer hate with love, let’s answer darkness with light, let’s answer intolerance with understanding.”

In his introduction of Sam, Dale Hansen cited a famous quote by the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, who once said, “We know the future will outlast all of us, but I believe that all of us will live on in the future we make.”

Said Hansen: “Michael Sam is making it a better future for our kids. We need more Michael Sams in America.”

Please make plans to join the Museum on June 4 for the next guest of the Upstander Speaker Series, Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, who is playing a key role in the “Jewish Renaissance” of Poland.

And, be sure to visit the current special exhibit at the Museum (through June 20), “The Wartime Escape,” which recounts the WW II escape of Margret and H.A. Rey, creators of the Curious George series.

-Chris Kelley for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hear Upstander Michael Sam Speak March 26

Missouri vs Arkansas State - September 28, 2013 (Photo by Ben Walton)Whether you follow people who tear across the football field or tear up the dance floor, no doubt Michael Sam has been on your social media feed lately. Now you have a chance to hear what the multi-talented football player is up to in person.

Sam, the first openly gay man to be drafted into the NFL, will speak on March 26 as part of the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance’s 2015 Upstander Speaker Series. The series brings leading human rights advocates and academics to Dallas to share their knowledge and research on a spectrum of issues, including modern-day genocide, ethics, prejudice and law.

Sam set the Internet spinning when he announced recently that he’ll be a contestant on Season 20 of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. He’s stressed, though, that he’ll continue training so he can show off his moves on the football field if a team comes calling for the 2015 NFL season.

Sam has a lot going on, but he’ll stand still long enough on March 26 to speak to the North Texas community about his past whirlwind year and his decision to come out despite repercussions it may have on his career in the uber-macho world of professional sports.

Sam’s a natural for the Dallas Holocaust Museum’s second Upstander Speaker Series, which raises fundamental questions about humanity, justice and personal responsibility. It challenges audiences to consider these issues and stand up against injustice rather than stand by.

Upstander Speakers Series (2)Sam grew up in Hitchcock, Tex. along the Gulf Coast. He is the seventh of eight children. Three of his siblings have died and two brothers are in prison. He is the first of his family to graduate from college.

Sam, now 25, was selected by the St. Louis Rams in last year’s draft but was released before the start of the season. He was signed to the Dallas Cowboys practice squad but did not make it to the game-day roster.

The nation has followed Sam’s progress in the NFL closely.

“The President congratulates Michael Sam, the Rams and the NFL for taking an important step forward today in our Nation’s journey,” President Barack Obama said in a White House statement. “From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT Americans prove everyday that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are.”

Sam has been accepted to the first NFL veteran combine, a project aimed at giving a second chance to players who are free agents. That combine is set for March 22.

The Upstander Speaker Series with Michael Sam and introduction by WFAA-TV sports anchor Dale Hansen will take place March 26 at 6:30 p.m. at Communities Foundation of Texas, 5500 Caruth Haven Lane in Dallas. For more information and tickets, visit DallasHolocaustMuseum.org.

— Katie Menzer, staff writer for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance