These "Letters of Support to the Parents of Matthew Shepard Following His Murder" were literally collected from the basement of Judy and Dennis Shepard's home, so this exhibition is a true historical recovery of a moment in this country's moral awakening.
Ford's Theatre Society brought these pieces together to help provide context for its new production of The Laramie Project, which I'm seeing in a couple of weeks.
In a way, the small room with showcases full of letters from all over the world is like a miniature of the Holocaust Museum, but in reverse: In the wake of one horrific act of inhumanity, the loss of one precious life, we see multitudes of lives touched and changed.
I never realized that part of the outpouring of support was actually instigated by an additional act of hate after Matthew's death. His funeral was to be the scene of one of the Westboro "Baptists" anti-gay protests, immediately sparking a counterprotest, a "Bigot-O-thon" fundraiser.
The title of the exhibition, "Not Alone," comes from the statement that Dennis Shepard made about Matthew's last moments, beaten and abandoned in the desolate Wyoming countryside: "He wasn't alone. He had the beautiful night sky. He had the daylight and the sun. He had God. I feel better knowing he wasn't alone."
The brutal death of Matthew Shepard marked a turning point in the national conscience; 15 years later, those spontaneous expressions of empathy have been brought out to remind us never to forget.
I hope that the collection can be kept intact and shared around the country. Aside from the historical value of letters (including one from Coretta Scott King and two from Bill Clinton), there is the poignancy of messages from everyday people who just wanted to share a family's pain.
Not Alone: The Power of Response, through November 10, 2013
Ford's Theatre Center for Education and Leadership, 514 10th St., NW, Washington, DC