News Flash

Bones display draws attention to genocide

By Brennan Smith The Republic | Tue Jul 30, 2013 7:04 AM

The picture shows a sea of a million white bones, carefully crafted of clay, glass and other materials, placed directly in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The bones stretched the length of the National Mall in early June, the culmination of a three-year effort to honor victims of genocide around the world and raise awareness of genocide in a high-profile way.

Several Southeast Valley residents made the trip to Washington, D.C., laying the bones out and spreading the word of the One Million Bones project to curious tourists passing by. The project, based in New Mexico, was created to raise awareness of genocide and mass atrocities in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burma.

“They were amazed with how many it was and what 1 million bones look like when they’re laid out,” said Doreen Romney, the Arizona coordinator of One Million Bones.

Romney, who also co-founded the genocide-awareness charity Darfur and Beyond, spearheaded bone-making events and parties for more than three years around the Valley, teaming with schools, churches and individuals.

“I was surprised with how many students wanted to participate,” Romney said. “We didn’t have that many adults, to be honest with you, unless you had a private party. Students really got into it and wanted to be a part of it.”

Kim Klett, an English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa, conducted several bone-making workshops after school for the past three years as students used kilns in the art room to make clay bones.

Klett said she originally intended for her Holocaust Literature class to make bones, but as time went on, her advanced-placement literature classes wanted to make bones of their own.

“It seems like once they went, they wanted to make multiple bones,” Klett said. “I had a couple of kids that were very artistic that made skulls and more detailed pieces.”

Klett estimates they made at least 100 bones per year and even hosted Naomi Natale, founder and director of the project, to come speak to students.

She didn’t travel to help place the bones in Washington, D.C., but after seeing photos, said she hopes the exhibit made a difference for those who saw it in person and who may have doubted the importance of stopping genocide.

“It was like, wow, if this doesn’t wake people up I don’t know what will,” Klett said.

She said she hopes her students take away some sense of activism from making the bones and that no amount of effort is too small to make a difference in the world around them.

“I just hope at least they take a piece of that and do something, even if it’s just signing an online petition,” Klett said.

The bones were placed in piles June 6-7 before they were laid out on June 8. The exhibit was displayed all day on June 9 and 200 volunteers gave bones to their U.S. representatives and senators on the 10th to show support for ending genocide.

Cory Williams, who co-founded Darfur and Beyond with Romney, said she estimates the duo helped make 2,000 bones over the past few years, with 500 alone made during Scottsdale Community College’s Genocide Awareness Week in April.

“It’s really hard because we’d make them or a school would make them and someone else was transporting them,” Williams said. “We weren’t keeping a complete tally because they’d be counted as they got to Albuquerque.”

The bones were initially delivered to the organization’s headquarters in Albuquerque before their final stop in Washington, D.C.

Williams said she and Romney were section leaders when the bones were laid out, with volunteers silently and solemnly organizing the exhibit as a sign of respect for genocide victims.

“It was very respectful of those that we were honoring and remembering, survivors as well as those we’ve lost,” Williams said.

Williams said the whole event reminded her that one small person can make a big impact, as Natale had by bringing the bones project to life.

“One person had this idea and it ends up being a million bones on the National Mall,” Williams said.

Volunteers began “reclaiming” the bones on the morning of June 10 and had completely gathered them up by June 12, when they were shipped back to Albuquerque.

Romney said the plan is to keep some of the bones in a permanent exhibit in New Mexico, while others will be taken around the country as a traveling exhibit to continue genocide-awareness education.

She said the exhibit made an impact that news reports and statistics can’t make, applying a physical presence to something that is easy to ignore when it is out of sight and out of mind.

“A million doesn’t mean a lot when it’s just a figure, but when it’s standing in front of you, you have all these bones,” Romney said. “That’s why it made such a powerful statement, because they brought it to life for a lot of people.”