Welcome to the Invisible Words exhibit at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in Washington, D.C. The exhibit is curated by Ms. Wendy Abrams and its display in Washington, D.C. is being jointly sponsored by the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) and the Eleven Eleven Foundation. Whether you have come on your own today or as part of a group, we invite you to slowly and silently view the sixty signs that are on display on the walls of the fifth floor of the library. The outdoor terrace might be the perfect place for you to reflect on the weight of the words you see displayed today as you contemplate how you are being called to respond to them.
The authors of the signs that you see displayed here are people experiencing poverty and, in many cases, homelessness in cities and towns throughout the United States and several foreign cities as well. The signs were not specifically designed for the walls of an art gallery. They were produced to elicit a response (and a monetary contribution) from people well off enough to be in possession of an automobile. The signs span the full spectrum of human emotions, from despair to regret to humor to hope. Some observers have noticed how many military veterans have produced these signs, a stark reminder of the challenges that those who served our country on the front lines sometimes face after discharge.
The Ignatian Volunteer Corps encourages you to use one of the guides below to accompany your visit. It invites you to focus on three signs that are particularly striking to you and consider some questions based on your own background and life experiences. As a Catholic Christian organization, IVC also suggests the use of lectio divina (or sacred reading) of a passage from the Christian Scriptures to focus your reflection. Those of you from other faith traditions are encouraged to likewise contemplate a passage from a sacred text in your own tradition. Those who come from a more secular worldview might think of a core value that you cherish and how you see that value reflected in this display.
Believing that there should be no unseen people nor any invisible words, we invite you to consider a call to action in response to your visit to the library today. How might you be a voice for the voiceless and advocate for those experiencing poverty and homelessness? Each fall, the Ignatian Volunteer Corps recruits and sends senior adults into local social service organizations to provide up to six hundred hours of direct service in a calendar year. Retired individuals are invited to explore what this commitment entails by visiting ivcusa.org. Those of all ages can find some suggested action steps in the materials included here.
In receiving the Nobel Peace Prize at age 35 in Oslo, Norway in 1964, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. issued this challenge to our nation. “Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.’”
Thank you for your compassion, your concern and your greatness that bring you to this exhibit today.
IVC Goals for Invisible Words
- Open eyes and hearts in empathy to those among us experiencing homelessness
- Show how art has the power to make you think
- Be a convener of the national policy, art, Catholic, interfaith, and social service communities in reflecting on and addressing homelessness
- Provide programming for students
- Underscore Pope Francis’ call in Let Us Dream to see the societal needs COVID-19 has revealed and respond in service to the poor and marginalized
- Showcase the new MLK Library to new audiences
Photo ©2021 by Tom Conway, IVC Cincinnati Director
Homelessness is a heart-wrenching and complicated problem. I don’t pretend to have the answers, and this exhibit is not intended to tell viewers what to do. Art has the power to make you think; this exhibit was put together to do that, to see things you didn’t see before, or see them through a different lens.