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Civil Rights Institute captures the struggles and victories of the Black community in the Inland Empire

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By Stephen Day

“Still I Rise” greets you as you walk into the Civil Rights Institute of Inland Southern California. The title of a poem from the late great Maya Angelou, sets the tone of the new museum in downtown Riverside which opened to the public on Oct. 22.

The opening exhibit, “Still I Rise – the Black IE fight for justice,” includes works of art, and historical memorabilia that speak of the struggle and victories of the Black community in the Inland Empire, curated by Dr. Vince Moses Ph.D.

There are exhibits that honor Black entertainers, politicians and a large wall that honors the memory of Tyisha Miller, who was shot and killed by Riverside Police in December 1998.

Other exhibits teach about the history of racism in employment and features the Stater Bros. Case of 1999. The exhibit demonstrates how despite publicly stating a no tolerance policy regarding racism on the job, Stater Bros. was allowing rampant bigotry toward their Black employees. With the help of Riverside civil rights attorney Diane Roth, 12 Black men were successfully able to get the company to settle for a significant sum.

Finally, after walking through the history, presented in pictures, interactive screens, video and even scannable QR codes to online content, visitors are presented with a final mostly blank wall, which asks “How will you fight for justice in the IE?” and post-it notes and pencils are there for all to express how they will aid the cause.

On Oct. 20, a thank you reception was held to honor the contributors and sponsors of the event. Prominent members of the Riverside community such as Assemblymember Jose Medina, Congressman Mark Takano, UCR Chancellor Kim Wilcox and many others who contributed monetarily, provided artwork and or photography for the museum.

Medina was honored with an atrium in his name for his efforts to secure a 3 million dollar grant toward the completion of the museum. Takano also took the stage to talk about the struggles for civil rights, stating that “the stakes are just as high today as they were in the 60’s.”

The institute shares the 92,000 square feet of space with the offices of the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County and 72 units of affordable apartments that homeless veterans in the Riverside area can move into as soon as Nov. 1, according to Rebecca Louie, President/CEO of Wakeland Housing and Development Corporation.

Dr. Lalit Acharya, who is responsible for the installation of many of the civil rights monuments throughout downtown Riverside, was joined on stage with community activist Rose Mayes, both of whom serve on the Board of Director for the institute. They talked about their work and experiences leading up to the opening.

The public opening of the museum was described by Sabrina Gonzalez, Executive Director of the institute as “an amazing block party right here in downtown.” The event featured a keynote address by Olympic gold medalist and civil rights activist Dr. Tommie Smith. Smith was also on hand to sign copies of his book “Stand. Victory!”

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