If we’re not careful, important history can and will be forgotten. Kendall Chew, outreach coordinator for the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center (BHEC), firmly believes this. It’s why she joined the Center’s team, which aims to preserve and share the stories of local Holocaust survivors. As outreach coordinator, Kendall manages a long list of programs for the BHEC. And by documenting and sharing firsthand accounts of Holocaust survivors, Kendall is doing her part to ensure that future generations understand what happened so long ago and will seek understanding and acceptance rather than discrimination. Through her work with the BHEC, Kendall has had the chance to get to know survivors who now live in Birmingham and the surrounding region. Hearing their stories, she says, is a privilege she doesn’t take lightly.
Kendall exemplifies what it means to champion justice and unity while working to make a lasting, positive impact on the community. If you ever have the chance, stop by the BHEC and learn about the great things they are doing to show us all what it means to live in harmony.
For now, meet today’s FACE of Birmingham, Kendall Chew!
How did you begin working at the Holocaust Education Center?
Long story short, I worked here in 2016 through 2017 for about 10 months and had an opportunity at the Alabama Humanities Foundation I couldn’t pass up. But the former BHEC Interim Executive Director lured me back to BHEC, and I’m so glad she did!
Why do you think it’s important to have something like BHEC in Alabama?
I don’t know where to start with this question, except to say that there are people, particularly in this current generation of students to young professionals, who have startlingly limited knowledge of what the Holocaust is — and I include myself in these statistics. While I have a master’s in history, I did not have a solid foundation in Holocaust education from my public school education. Because BHEC came to my classroom in my 11th-grade year of history, I had more information at my fingertips. The teachers we work with truly have to go out of their way to insert what we have to offer into their curriculum. This should be a much more extensive lesson in the classroom because the ideas, concepts and powers that kept the Holocaust alive for so long are not old, new or unfamiliar structures. They are still very present in our current national and international cultures, and we should always be mindful of what perpetuates hate and stand up to it.
What’s one way that working at BHEC has personally impacted you?
Getting to travel, talk to and socialize with Holocaust survivors every week cannot be beaten, and that is part of my job! We did this work for them and because of them. But, even better, we do it with them. They are a truly determined group of people who know how vital it is for them to tell their stories of survival, regardless of how hard it is to rehash. The amount of trust and encouragement I get from this organization, its board and the survivors is overwhelming, and I truly thank each and every one of them for believing in me. It has empowered me more than I ever thought it could.
Why would you encourage locals to visit the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center?
We cannot let the lessons of the Holocaust die away with time. This is how history repeats itself. If you ask most of our survivors in Alabama, they would say that they never would have thought something like the Holocaust could happen. But it did. That makes it a very real concept that no group, community, race, ethnicity, faith or culture is immune to it happening to them. If we do not engage in our local civil and human rights organizations, museums and community groups, these lessons and histories will fade away. That is why you must visit the BHEC.
Our exhibit “Darkness Into Life” highlights the lives of Alabama survivors, and through those stories, the massive concept of 6 million Jews and 5 million others [who were Holocaust victims], including 1.5 million children, comes to life and hits very close to home.
Where did you go to school?
I graduated in 2004 from Mountain Brook High School, UAB in 2008 with a B.A. in Art History and UAB in 2010 with an M.A. in History.
What’s your favorite book?
To Kill A Mockingbird — I have a Mockingbird tattoo, and my dog is named Harper Lee, so I’m serious!
Describe your perfect Birmingham weekend — where would you go, what would you eat, who would you see?
This literally could be my itinerary from Friday afternoons through Saturday nights: Cahaba Brewery after work; Filling Station pizza for dinner; the farmers’ market Saturday morning; Rojo for brunch; maybe Trim Tab Brewery and Chez Lulu for Saturday night dinner, sitting outside. It’s the only place I can go in the city and be transported back to Paris.
What is your best piece of advice?
Patience truly is a virtue, but it is also so important because things do not happen when you want them to, and that’s okay. With patience comes calm, awareness and giving yourself a break. This life is too, too short. Enjoy it. Wait for it. It’s worth it.
With the exception of faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
My list is pretty silly but true! ChapStick (none of the fancy stuff), caffeine and Corgis — yes, Pembroke Welsh Corgis like Harper Lee, my dog.
Thank you, Kendall! To learn more about Kendall’s work and the initiatives and exhibits of the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, visit bhecinfo.org.
Thank you to Charity Ponter of Charity Ponter Photography for today’s beautiful photography.
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