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Fairfax'Virtual experience' aims to widen horizons in McLean

‘Virtual experience’ aims to widen horizons in McLean

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Visitors to the McLean Community Center for the next two months will be able to take part in a virtual-reality experience that highlights the travails of African-Americans from decades ago until the present day.

“Traveling While Black,” a living-history film by Academy Award-winning director Roger Ross Williams, will be offered for free at stations in the community center’s lobby from Dec. 15 through Feb. 12 next year.

The film’s viewers watch from simulated booths at Ben’s Chili Bowl, an iconic Washington, D.C., restaurant. The production features footage from civil-rights milestones, memories from activist Courtland Cox and words of Samaria Rice, whose young son Tamir was killed by police in 2014.

“‘Traveling while black’ is a term people use to illustrate that in America when you are black and you are going from point A to point B, you are always at risk,” Williams said.


An alternate atlas called “The Green Book,” by Victor Green, for decades guided African-American travelers through Jim Crow-era America to safe spaces such as gas stations, restaurants and hotels, officials said.

When director Williams was a child, his family would pack everything into their car and drive 14 hours straight from Philadelphia to Charleston, S.C. Williams never understood why as a child, but came to appreciate the dangers later in life.

The virtual-reality experience was funded with support from the Québec government offices in New York and Washington, D.C., as well as the Embassy of Canada to the United States, and done in cooperation with Fairfax County Public Library.

“‘Traveling While Black’ connects technology, art and social justice in a palpable and powerful manner,” said Daniel Singh, the community center’s executive director. “MCC is proud to present this first virtual reality exhibit in our center and will be hosting several discussions to help us consider the different questions this exhibit raises.”

Several dignitaries took part in a kickoff preview of the display Dec. 10.

“I am grateful to MCC for its leadership in creating a more equitable community so there can be a bright future for everyone,” said Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville), who like the others donned goggles to view the program.

County Executive Bryan Hill expressed gratitude for the opportunity to participate in the experience.

“Our community needs to move forward,” Hill said. “We can do that by recognizing the problems of the past,” as far as eliminating racism.

Visitors can sign up for hour-long appointments Wednesdays through Saturdays from noon to 8 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. For more information, call (703) 790-0123.

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