MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis has historically been praised for being one of the best places to live. It has beautiful parks, relatively well-connected bike paths. However, it still remains a place with one of the biggest racial inequality gaps in the nation.
"Whether that's red lining, educational disparities, things about housing and systemic inequities in general..." Tracy Nielsen said. Nielsen is the Executive Director of HandsOn Twin Cities, a volunteer center that coordinates companies, nonprofits and volunteers.
She said they've been partnering with REM5, a virtual reality experience company out of St. Louis Park to host something called 1 City, 2 Realities.
"1 City, 2 Realities is a virtual exhibition space, so basically it can be accessed in real time via phone or computer when people go into the exhibition," Nielsen said. "It's like walking into a museum — you have an avatar and you're navigating the space."
Nielsen says this experience has been available to her volunteers for a while, and she thought MLK day was the perfect jumping off point to introduce the public to it, so that they can participate too, without leaving their homes.
"Everyday we are working to make people think about themselves on how they can be more anti-racist as a volunteer," she said. "We really believe that by deeply informing of our history that affects our current circumstance, and the existing need, people will become better volunteers to understand those issues."
Amir Berenjian, The founder of REM 5, the company behind building this VR exhibit, says his company's mission had been the same since the beginning.
"When we first started the company about four years ago, we spent a lot of time deploying this technology for empathy building or soft skills, emotional intelligence, cultural competence, using it as an intimate storytelling medium," Berenjian said.
And ever since the company developed this exhibit, Berenjian says he's worked with schools and corporate groups to not only educate but to also help visualize what the inequities look like in numbers.
The exhibit includes dozens of items, featuring information about educational, housing and wealth gaps in our city.
"When you start to look at the data, we have some of the worst race inequities in the country across the board, so if we can open up people's eyes to that data and that content and those stories using this tool as the medium for it, and get those 10, 20, 100 people in that company to engage in discourse around that and what they can do individually and as an organization to counteract some of these systemic issues, then we've done our job," Berenjian said.
If you are interested in the exhibit as well as other events HandsOn Twin Cities is organizing throughout the week, you can find that info here.
The virtual exhibit is free to view for anyone with a computer or a smartphone, but requires registration. You can also participate in the debriefing session hosted by HandsOn Twin Cities throughout the week.
Watch the interview!