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Frederick Gets New VR Experience Based on Civil Rights Movement

A newly developed virtual reality (VR) experience can take you to the setting of the 1968 Civil Rights Movement. Participants of the experience find themselves rioting with the sanitation workers on strike on the streets of Memphis. As the VR journey starts, users have to lift a picket sign saying “I Am a Man” to participate in the protest whilst they see a tank before them.

With “I Am a Man”, the VR experience at @VR, users gain an immersive experience of the scenes of Memphis by stepping into the shoes of an African-American person during the movement. They can also witness the scenes in the hours following the killing of Martin Luther King Jr. The VR experience was launched at the virtual reality shop situated on Frederick’s Golden Mile, on a day when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was being celebrated across the nation.

David Butler, among the first people to try the VR experience at Frederick, remarked that it was successful in blending history with immersive technology, to highlight and reveal certain facets of time. The virtual reality simulation has a 15-minutes runtime, through which users are subjected to different sounds, scenes and videos. One of the scenarios has users standing in a kitchen, where they can see strike headlines on a newspaper on a table. They can take in the view of the kitchen and interact with the items.

Image source: YouTube

Another scene takes users to the Memphis street where the workers’ strike happened, but during the night. Users will come across a smoke-filled sky and a trash can on fire, as the experience takes them to the night of King’s assassination. Glancing at a shop window, they can look at televisions airing the now-iconic Robert F. Kennedy speech, given on the same day.

Shantay DeMar, @VR owner, expressed that the experience felt like being right at the moment of the event, and offers a varying perspective than that seen in documentaries or television. He emphasised that users really feel at the moment with the experience.  “I Am a Man” was brought to the @VR shop by Desiree Tucker, a resident of Frederick, and the originator of Women Solve, a group that ensures that the ideals of diversity and inclusion are upheld by Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS). Women Solve is putting in efforts to introduce additional lessons with a wide range of perspectives introduced to the FCPS curriculum, according to The Frederick News Post.

Upon gaining awareness about the simulated VR experience, Tucker approached its developer Derek Ham, who is also a graphics design assistant professor at the North Carolina State University. Tucker revealed that talks with Ham were on for a long time, to bring the simulated experience to Frederick County.

When Tucker learnt of the @VR shop, her motive became introducing Ham to DeMar. Following some interactive steps, test runs of the simulation began and it was smoothed out, to be ready in time for Martin Luther King Day. Many people were invited to the launch event held at the @VR shop. Tucker harbours hopes for the experience to be utilised by the FCPS in the near future.

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