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On a quiet Wednesday afternoon, a familiar scene unfolds: a family of four seated around a kitchen table, chatting away as they rolled, cut and shaped pieces of dough onto small, plastic plates. Behind them, open crates containing beans, rice, dumplings and noodles were stacked together. Suddenly, the youngest, no older than five, signaled he was done and ready to go. The family followed suit, cleaning up the scraps of dough and stacking plates and containers together.

This scene mirrors what is found in thousands of households across the San Antonio region, save for a few differences. The dough was created by Play-Doh. The crated foods were scaled-down replicas made of plastic, and the kitchen, a home-like setting inside The DoSeum’s newest installation, “Uniquely Us: Understanding Race and Building Unity.”

A temporary exhibition almost two years in the making, Uniquely Us is the result of hundreds of hours of listening, planning and building an experience meaningful to every type of learner visiting The DoSeum. Over 20 San Antonio-area organizations were involved in the creation of Uniquely Us, including local families with children to play-test the exhibits themselves.

In a press release marking the exhibition’s opening, Meredith Doby, vice president of exhibits, stated: “As with all of our exhibitions, it is very important to hear from the community throughout the entire process. We concept test, receive feedback and test exhibit prototypes to ensure we’re meeting the needs of the community.”

To amplify and build upon the exhibit topics, The DoSeum collaborated with a variety of community partners to create a resource guide for caregivers. Included is a list of places to explore in San Antonio and books to read together, including Proud To Be In Between, a children’s book written and illustrated by local talents Marcus Peoples and Gaby Flores.

As you walk through the exhibit space, you cannot help but acknowledge this exhibit was made just as much for the adults in the room as it was for children. During the exhibit’s grand opening on Jan. 14, Chris Navarro, director of community partnerships at The DoSeum, said, “The value of this exhibit idea was affirmed by personal experiences, through my work as an educator and as a father mitigating my own children’s reactions to current affairs.”

Navarro later stated there have been many things about race, racism and his own personal experiences he wanted to share with his children, but he wanted to present each topic in a way that showed “enough of what real life is like without taking all the joy out.” As fate would have it, his children were able to bring joy and fun into the conversation by participating in The DoSeum’s Community Conversations and testing the exhibit prototypes, including the tabletop game “Community Building.”

In Community Building, children are prompted to select common shared resources for a community based on scenarios detailed on a deck of cards, but with a catch: Some communities have more resources than others, and changes in the community can impact the resources available. The game provides real-world examples supporting conversations around the concept of underserved communities and, as noted by Navarro, “a reason to have that conversation with my kids.”

When asked about what the 10-year-old version of himself would have thought about Uniquely Us, Navarro didn’t hesitate: “GOOD. I was already experiencing racism by fourth grade. By then I was starting to understand it in depth. This exhibit would have helped put words to what I was experiencing.”

Some of the most impactful parts of Uniquely Us are in the smallest details.

A digital photo of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges attending the all-white William Frantz Elementary in 1960 is colorized, removing the veil of antiquity typically assumed with black and white photos.

The baby dolls in the exhibit’s nursery are a variety of skin tones and hair textures, a direct nod to Black researchers Kenneth and Mamie Clarks’ work in demonstrating racial bias already ingrained in young children.

A variety of skin-toned crayons are available for children to use as they sketch and color pictures of their skin under a microscope.

A 4-year-old may not notice the acknowledgement installed within the first few feet of the exhibit stating all who enter are standing on land once belonging to indigenous peoples, but it matters to the members of the Jumano, Coahuiltecan, Tonkawa and Lipan Apache Nations bringing that 4-year-old to The DoSeum.

Uniquely Us is designed to inform, engage and inspire conversations about race through the power of play with the ultimate goal of building up a stronger, more unified community. If you are struggling for a starting point on talking about race or are looking for a way to incorporate additional resources, The DoSeum is a joyful place to start.

Rebecca Kaufmann Podowski

Rebecca Kaufmann Podowski is a storyteller passionate about making connections through writing. After working as a technical writer and in local politics, she found her groove writing successful grants...