The Last Word: Rodney Hawkins on the History Behind ‘The Mount Experience’ Visual and VR Exhibition at AT&T’s HQ

“This project started as a way to not only explore this nation’s painful past, but also reclaim my family’s legacy.”

Rodney Hawkins
Tiny Hawk Productions
…on helping to restore the Old Mount Gillion African-American cemetery in East Texas, the subject of a visual and AR exhibition coming to Dallas’ AT&T Discovery District. 

Efforts to restore Black cemeteries and burial sites are increasing across the country—and now the unveiling of a buried past deep in East Texas’s Piney Woods is the subject of an immersive visual and AR exhibition opening this weekend in Dallas’ AT&T Discovery District.

Hawkins, a former CBS News producer, explored his own heritage on nearly 100 acres of family-owned land in East Texas. In 2020, he began an effort to restore the roughly 200-year-old overgrown Old Mount Gillion Cemetery that borders his family’s acreage. The restoration was chronicled in a three-part series between 2020 and 2022 on CBS Mornings with Hawkins reporting on location.

Historic Mount Gillion Cemetery. [Photo: Kwesi Yanful]

Now the cemetery’s rebirth is the foundation for a new, immersive experience making its debut this MLK Day Weekend in partnership with the AT&T Discovery District. “The Mount Experience” exhibition aims to uncover America’s buried past through a combination of photography, augmented reality, audio recordings, and visual installations created by Black Dallas artists.

“This project started as a way to not only explore this nation’s painful past, but also reclaim my family’s legacy,” Hawkins said in a statement. “I can trace my familial roots in Texas all the way back to the 1800s, but that’s a privilege that most Black Americans don’t have due to the destructive effects caused by slavery. It’s so important that our ancestors are honored, so it seemed fitting to launch this experience on a weekend that commemorates our history through the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Placing flowers at the Old Mount Gillion Cemetery. [Photo: Kwesi Yanful]

“The Mount Experience” which will be open free to the public this Saturday, January 14, and continue seven days a week through February 21 in the lobby of the AT&T headquarters at 208 S. Akard Street in downtown Dallas. The pop-up exhibition is produced by Hawkins’ Tiny Hawk Productions in collaboration with AT&T and Samsung, and will serve as this season’s AT&T Showcase while helping to honor Black History Month.

In addition, a virtual panel called “Connecting Your Roots to Find Your Voice” will be held on February 16, featuring Hawkins Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, and Michelle Jordan, AT&T’s chief diversity officer, along with Mary Elliot of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Also, three emerging Black Dallas-based storytellers and artists will be featured in a Mount Black Art Pop-Up February 16-19, with details to be announced at a later date.

For more of who said what about all things North Texas, check out Every Last Word.

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