Love Beyond Walls, an Atlanta based nonprofit organization focused on community and social uplift, will launch its latest project today in the form of an interactive museum called The Dignity Museum at 10 AM.
The Dignity Museum will establish itself as the first exhibit combating the stigmas of homelessness and poverty. Located in College Park, Georgia, The Dignity Museum sits adjacent to the headquarters of Love Beyond Walls, as it occupies the organization’s parking lot.
Terence Lester, an Atlanta native and founder of Love Beyond Walls, said he created The Dignity Museum in order to address the systemic challenges and bias of homelessness and poverty in America, as well as inform those who do not understand its reality.
Lester possesses a personal connection to his museum’s homelessness and poverty theme.
“I had several troubles myself during my teenage years,” Lester shared. “I was in gangs, put out of school, and at one point I ran away from home. I lived in parks, out of my car, and with friends. So I had this period of experiencing homelessness myself as a teen.”
“Right when I made the decision to drop out of high school, this alternative high school in College Park called Frank Mclaren, this guy told me that if I went back to school that I would one day be a leader,” Lester confessed. “So I went back to school and finished school as a fifth-year senior. It was embarrassing, but I did it. I got plugged into a church, and my life started to change.
“That was the first time I saw myself as having something to contribute, based upon all the trauma and pain that I experienced,” he continued. “I wanted to give back in a way that was aligned with my personal story, so this was it.”
Love Beyond Walls was established as a 501(c)(3) organization in 2013. Lester’s continuous community service, alongside his wife Cecilia, fundamentally led him to create his nonprofit.
Lester said he coined the idea of The Dignity Museum during the first quarter of 2018. It took him eight months to bring this idea to fruition. Housed inside a transformed shipping container, the interactive museum offers a social learning experience by means of technology.
The museum is divided into three different sections: red, which is the “Challenge Stereotypes” section; blue, which is the “Create Empathy” section; and orange, which is the “Call To Action” section. Each section has an iPad with a QR code on the screen.
“I was standing in the parking lot talking to a group of volunteers. I blurted out, ‘I want to create a museum out of a shipping container,’” Lester said. “Then I started explaining all the ideas I had in my mind. One generous couple in the group asked, ‘Well how much does a shipping container cost?’ So I told them. They went home and sent me the donation to buy the shipping container two hours later.”
Visitors will be distributed an iPhone equipped with the Dignity Museum app plus one set of earphones. Museum participants are able to choose one of the sections, scan the QR code from the iPad station using the Dignity Museum iPhone app, to then listen to different audio stories. If guest opt out of the iPhone interactive experience, Lester’s documentary, “Voiceless” will be available to view as well.
“We really wanted to include technology because that creates the immersive experience that people can have when they come through. We really want people to feel the stories of individuals they may judge, and just pass by,” Lester said. “It’s easy for you to make judgments about people that you’ve never even given the opportunity to speak for themselves. We want to demolish that, by creating a space where people can speak for themselves. Like one lady said, ‘I lost jobs then I fell into prostitution to care for myself.’ Like you don’t hear that part of the story. All you hear is the false narrative that you may have in your head, and we want to come back against,” conveyed Lester.
Lester initiated a campaign called “Map 16” in 2016, where he walked from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., which prompted his “Voiceless” documentary. In 2018, he also walked from Atlanta to Memphis to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. As a result of his journeys, Lester said he was able to gather the diverse stories and use them for The Dignity Museum.
“I would like to see containers all the around the country and cities that have this problem,” Lester said regarding possible expansion for The Dignity Museum. “I think this can become a platform to spread empathy out. There are several cities that are well known, that wrestle with this issue.”
“I hope people, one, pause long enough to step out of their shoes, and into the shoes of another person. The reason why we intentionally put it into a shipping container is because shipping containers are transient. It carries things of worth and value, and we see the parallel in people living on the streets. They’re transient but they still have worth on the inside, so that’s the metaphor. Secondly, to possibly change perceptions, open people’s hearts, and minds to literally care for their neighbor. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s real. Thirdly, to inspire people to take account for what they may posses or own in their own lives. Do you have a gift, can you teach a class, can you go volunteer, can you give resources, can you contribute in a way that is benefiting the world and your community?”
Love Beyond Walls currently services locals within the surrounding communities of the city of Atlanta, through several means of community service acts. Numerous of volunteers from around Georgia assist the organization with their events. Volunteers not only pay it forward with their time given, but also providing services using their skills and talents.
Some of the community service events offered by Love Beyond Walls consist of: Mobile Makeovers, a program designed to provide grooming services to people in under-served communities; Mobile Stay, a program that provides temporary shelter for Atlanta locals experiencing homelessness; Love Feeds, a program that provides groceries to families in need; Closet of Hope, a program that provides adequate clothing for the local community members; and more.
“I’m driven to give my entire life to this cause, as appose to making this a hobby. That’s what pushes me through. I’ve seen it grow up and continue to make an impact. I’m excited to see how this museum will impact our generation. There are generations that have come before us that have done tremendous work. I’m really interested in seeing leaders among our generation stand up and take charge over issues,” confessed Lester.
Along with expanding Dignity Museum shipping containers worldwide, Lester intends to produce a physical building as well. With the walls of the museum also being interchangeable, Lester plans to alternate the themes of the museum. The Dignity Museum will also explore youth homelessness, hunger epidemic, and more.
“Hopefully we can travel to at least two locations by the end of the year. We’re looking for partners that will say, ‘hey this would be good if we dropped it on the campus of a school, college, or business.’ We’re also looking for political collaborations too, to look deeper into what policies need to change. Like how can we write and advocate for policies that would be beneficial to people who are suffering?” said Lester.