Guest post by: Stacy Damitio
This article appeared in the Nov. 7, 2012 issue of The Voice, the GCC student newspaper.
History was made Oct. 24, at Glendale Community College. On this day, GCC was the proud host of the Human Library. GCC was one on a short list of places this event has been hosted in the United States. Students came to the Student Union, and chose from an array of “books” to check out.
These “books” were more than just ordinary books with pages and print—These “books” were people who have lived lives interesting enough to be captured in print. Instead of reading these “books,” students sat in small groups and heard their stories of struggle, fear, discrimination, encounters with hate, and most of all success.
While sitting at the tables listening to their chosen books, students could not help but overhear the other books around them, and interest grew.
“I expected to listen to one book, but I signed up for four,” said sophomore, Cassie Pence.
The day was well attended. At the closing it was announced there were 1,100 readers.
“What were most interesting were the walk-ups, or the students who didn’t register through the system,” said Kirt Shineman, professor, and one of the main people responsible for bringing this event to GCC.
What made this event so unique was that students were able to walk into a room filled with so much diversity, and see people smiling, hugging, laughing and at times, crying. One example of this was seeing Kelly Sindel, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having a warm discussion with Julian Melson, who was born a woman, but is now a man. This was the sort of discourse which encompassed the entire five-hour day.
Students were also able to receive history lessons from individuals who survived the Holocaust. Each of these survivors had a unique story different from the rest. Marion Weinzeig, was one of the youngest people to survive the Holocaust. This was a miracle because children were normally the first to be taken to extermination camps.
“I was the only child,” Weinzeig said, when speaking of being reunited with survivors at the end of the Holocaust.
Osckar Knoblolavch Noble, another Holocaust survivor, reminded students: “Freedom of speech is important, a gift to America, given to us by the Constitution.” Noble’s message to students was also one of respecting your enemies, and being tolerant. “Respect and tolerance go hand in hand,” said Noble. He credits those traits for saving his life.
“I thought it was really good, people coming out and sharing their stories,” said freshman Cameron Termunde.
There were also countless stories of inspiration. One of them was Alice Yam, a young woman from Malaysia. She is extremely visually impaired, that is just the beginning of her story. She has other health problems as well, and just recently lost her little boy. She is now working at Arizona State University.
“I work with students to help them find jobs,” said Yam. She works with both disabled and non-disabled students.
Richard Nichols, a deaf man, and a former GCC student shared a message of strength. He spoke of being deaf, and being mainstreamed into public schools. He spoke of his struggles while in school, “There will always be people that will look down on you and judge,” Nichols said, using an interpreter.
Nichols had a wonderful sense of humor, and was a perfect example of an individual overcoming obstacles, and making the best of life.
Kirt Shineman and Heather Merrill, the professors responsible for setting up the event would like to see it happen again, but said that they are still unsure.
Students received the event very warmly. “I’m really happy people set this up, and I really hope they do it again next year,” Pence said.
The sentiment throughout the day was that if you came into that room, and listened to only one book; it would be enough to have a lasting effect on you.
“I sat in on two books, and cried all the way through,” Shineman said.
This did not affect just the students and faculty; it affected the books as well. “I just want to share with you what a wonderful and positive event, the Human Library Project was for me. I feel that it did as much for me as for my readers. My readers were incredible people; some of them I will never forget. I believe I totally reached them and that my message will be lived through them and shared with others,” said Weinzeig in an e-mail to Merrill.
Those who attended the event could pour through the dictionary for days looking for the right words to describe this event. They would not be successful. This event was more than words. It was something felt in the core of everyone in the room. A feeling to be remembered, and faces that not to be forgotten.