[pullquote]History Fades Away if You Don’t Keep It at the Forefront.”[/pullquote]
In 1996, Kari Watkins was hired as the communications director for the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum and two years later was named executive director. Watkins has worked at the museum ever since. The Memorial Museum was officially opened in 2001 by President George W. Bush.
“It’s a part of my life,” Watkins says of the bombing. “Rebuilding has been a large part of my life, and I deal with it every day. I’m very in tune to the loss and impact it had on the nation, state and city.”
In the memorial and museum’s beginnings, the organization had a small staff and a large pool of volunteers, Watkins says, and the process involved the entire city. With a background in journalism and coming from a family of politicians, Watkins says she knew the importance of grassroots movements.
“The museum is now renowned around the world … it honors those who were killed and the survivors and has kept the story alive, most importantly. History fades away if you don’t keep it at the forefront,” Watkins says.
The museum is not static, either; it evolves constantly. The staff is currently working on new, interactive programs that will be unveiled later this year.
“We’re developing a hands-on, interactive education exhibit to be released in fall 2015 at the start of the next school year,” Watkins says. “It will be a top way to learn the story through science, technology and math – through the STEM lens – and it allows us to teach the story with more than just the aspect of history,” Watkins says.
The technology that has been added to the museum over the years is something she is very proud of, Watkins says.
“It doesn’t change the story, but it enhances it,” she says. “The 36 interactives are about as powerful as they come. This way, you can explore all of the lessons that were learned through the bombing because there were all kinds of remarkable elements.”
The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum will have a ceremony on the 20th anniversary of the bombing, Watkins says, in addition to the annual Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon on April 26. The Reflections of Hope Award, given every year to honor a living person or active organization that exemplifies hope amongst tragedy, will honor the justice team in the bombing trial.
Watkins urges those who have never been to the memorial and museum to visit.
“Give the museum a chance. You’ll never be prouder of the state for the response and for bringing hope and justice,” Watkins says. “People of Oklahoma have been very important in showing others how to keep hope. We learned as a community not to take a day for granted. The community came together and was stronger. We’re a different city and state today, and I’m proud that Oklahoma City is thriving.”