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Practical dreamer and his minority museum.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- David Shapiro, a small, unassuming man, dared to have a big dream. He set out several years ago to make the world a better place by sounding a battle cry for racial harmony.

He took to the road with a makeshift museum that he carried around in the back of his car: signs, photographs, cultural artifacts and newspaper articles -- anything that might help get his message across; to schools, churches, synagogues -- anywhere there was an audience willing to accept it.

"Call me a dreamer, but put the word 'practical' in front of it," Shapiro told NCR. "Four years later, here I am."

Recently, Shapiro's Minority Museum got a permanent address at Boone Elementary School in the Center School District here. He thinks it is the only museum of its kind, offering a combined focus on the cultures of African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews and American Indians. He says he feels these minorities need a "platform for showing the trials and tribulations inflicted on them, plus the many contributions they made to society."

This man, who spent his career as an optometrist helping people see better, now spends his retirement trying to get them to focus on things most would rather not see.

On display in his museum are troubling signs of the past:

* "Coloreds served in rear"

* "Help Wanted ... No Irish need apply"

* "Public swimming pool ... White only"

* "NO: Dogs, Negroes, Mexicans"

There are also signs of his personal struggles with hatred; pictures he gathered of Nazi concentration camps while serving in the military during World War II; and letters, now yellowed with age, in which he told his wife of the horrors he'd witnessed in Dachau.

It took Shapiro, a Jew, two years to get over the nightmares. Still, he held on to the reminders -- like the photo of the bodies of Jews strewn over a railroad track. He had to, he said, because "we can't let history repeat itself."

Though remnants of a bygone era, many of the items on the long tables in his museum symbolize a racial divide that still exists, especially in the United States, Shapiro said. "There was a resurgence of hate, prejudice and bigotry under President Reagan," he said. "I am doing this to fight the bigots back nonviolently."

He said that passage in November of California's Proposition 187, which denies illegal immigrants government health and services, was one of many troubling signs of these times.

"It's one immigrant saying to another immigrant, 'We don't want any immigrants,'" Shapiro said. "They forget that they stole everything from the Indians. They even stole their turkey."

Despite all the symbols of despair in this museum, hope is generated in the lectures Shapiro delivers to children from local schools and churches.

As part of his outreach, he invites students to join his "Museum Club." They are also encouraged to participate in a contest in which they are rewarded for such things as "converting" a gang member into a Museum Club member or for writing and producing a play about the evils of prejudice and discrimination.

When he is not showing off his museum, Shapiro spends much of his time looking for donations. "I've got plenty of time and no money," he often jokes. "I'm a Democrat." He serves his dual role as the museum founder and president without pay.

In the end, Shapiro said, "I hope I will have made enough of a difference that a minority museum will not be needed. If it comes to that point, I think I will have done something tremendous."
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Title Annotation:David Shapiro's Minority Museum, Kansas City, MO
Author:Edwards, Robin T.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jan 13, 1995
Words:591
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