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California Museum’s Unity Center Displays State’s Diversity

SACRAMENTO -- A new exhibit at the California Museum in downtown Sacramento has brought out some big names.

The new permanent exhibit is called the "Unity Center," an interactive experience aimed at inspiring community activism.

Carmichael native and national TV personality Lisa Ling, civil rights leader Dolores Huerta and Mayor Darrell Steinberg were all on hand to see the new exhibit and participate in a panel Saturday.

"Just hearing so many different stories, so many diverse people here sharing their story, it's incredible," said Alisha Ahmed.

Ahmed is featured in the "Facing Assumptions" exhibit inside the new Unity Center.

"I talked about how hate crimes affect me as a Muslim youth here in California," Ahmed said.

She's glad her story can help widen the public's understanding and defeat bigotry by getting people familiar with her culture.

"I know a lot of my friends in high school, they had never even met a Muslim," she said.

That's the idea behind the Unity Center.

Mayor Steinberg said he got involved with the idea early on, when in 1999 there was a wave of hate crimes throughout the Sacramento area, including firebombings of the NAACP and Planned Parenthood.

"We had this idea that we wanted a center, a unity center, where the tens of thousands of kids who come to the capitol every year from around the state could walk across the street and have an experience that could effect their hearts and minds," Steinberg said.

"It's a series of highly interactive exhibitions and an education program that goes with it," said Amanda Meeker, executive director of the museum. "And it's really all about celebrating our diversity, exploring our California civil rights history and empowering people to take action to support their own rights and the rights of others."

The center will also periodically host discussions on civil rights.

Ling moderated the Saturday morning panel that featured Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn, Stuart Milk, Harvey Milk's nephew, and state Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles.

Huerta, who was also on the panel, said she believes the Unity Center's opening could not have better timing.

"The new administration in the White House, they're taking away some of the policies we fought so hard for over the last several decades," Huerta said. "And this is exactly what we need right now."

The Unity Center is included with the cost of admission to the California Museum.