The Capital Unity Center - a non-profit dedicated to battling hatred and promoting tolerance that shut down last year after it ran out of money - is coming back to life in a new, 4,000-square-foot gallery at the California Museum.
"It's going to happen," said Dori Moorehead, the museum's executive director. "I have the space and a team in place to make it happen. It's going to make Sacramento and California a better place."
About $2.4 million is needed to build the exhibit, restart the center's educational programs and hire a development officer, Moorehead said. "We have a strong core of donors who support civil rights education we can reach out to."
The vision for an internationally known center to battle bigotry and celebrate California's rich diversity was born after the 1999 firebombing of three Sacramento synagogues and a women's health center, and the murder of a gay couple near Redding.
The Institute for Advancing Unity was created by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and 29 other prominent Sacramentans.
With $1 million in seed money from the late Sacramento businessman and philanthropist Morton L. Friedman, the institute raised and spent $10 million developing the center. The center's staff created inspirational videos and went into the schools to present anti-bullying programs designed to break down stereotypes.
But when the project's fund-raising stalled during the recession and its budget dried up, Steinberg called it "a dream deferred."
Thursday night, dozens of Sacramento's leaders - including Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Catholics across race and ethnicity - came to the museum at 10th and O streets downtown to hear about its new gallery, which will be called the Unity Lab-California Speaks Out.
A jubilant Steinberg declared, "Winston Churchill once said, 'Never give up, never give in.' We're alive!"
Steinberg recalled that after the tragic 1999 firebombings and murders, Sacramento's leaders led by then-Mayor Joe Serna met to explore "how we could fight intolerance not just in California, but the nation.
"Our dream was to build a center at 16th and N where tens of thousands of kids could come every year to learn about the good and the bad, tolerance and intolerance," Steinberg said.
When the money ran out, "it could have been the easiest thing in the world to fold our tents," he said. "Instead we've found a partner with a similar mission - our movement continues."
Marcy Friedman told the crowd, "Mort would be right here today," and praised Steinberg and the rest of the center's advisory board for "doggedly keeping it alive."
The Unity Center's educational programs could be up and running at the museum by the fall, Moorehead said.
Call The Bee's Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072. Follow him on Twitter @stevemagagnini.