Imagine if a police officer could step into the shoes of an African-American citizen, and experience first-hand what it is like to be African-American and policed in America. Dr. Derek Ham (North Carolina State University) has created a breathtakingly beautiful virtual reality experience that is a true time machine and allows us to travel back in time to live one of the pivotal moments of the Civil Rights Movement: “I AM A MAN” puts us in the shoes of a Memphis Sanitation Worker the strike in 1968 and allows us to experience the last moments of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life before he was assassinated: we become a sanitation worker, we pick up trash, go on strike holding the historic “I AM A MAN” sign.
What would happen if police officers across the country could have access to this type of transformative experience to better understand in first-person perspective the intergenerational memory of African-American community members who have inherited from a past of struggles, strikes and fights for equality? When I asked Dr. Derek Ham what he wanted officers to know and understand from his VR experience, he answered: ” I want them to know that what happened to my ancestors, great-grandfathers and mothers happened to me too.” For the police officers that face protests today, this VR experience can give them historic perspective, and allow them to understand that the protests did not start today, nor in Ferguson, but decades ago.
Equality Lab has partnered with Dr. Derek Ham and the National Police Foundation to distribute this VR experience to police departments across the nation. Together with the National Police Foundation, we are building, curating and testing the first virtual reality curriculum designed to help law enforcement officers trade places with the citizens they protect and serve. “I AM A MAN” is a crucial component of this curriculum.