The event ended with the group singing "We Shall Overcome" and having an open discussion

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CLEVELAND HEIGHTS -- A lunch counter sit-in, violent mobs and even a trip to jail, all part of a civil rights simulation in Cleveland Heights on Friday night that brought together people of all ages and races.

Dozens of community members turned out to experience an interactive journey through the civil rights movement, and, for some, it hit close to home

"I'm cringing at everything we're doing tonight because it's really so very real for me," Althea Cheatham said. "Those signs were there, colored waiting room, and white waiting room, and they were not pleasant experiences at all."

But they're experiences that cannot be ignored. As the crowd acted out the moments in history when racial tensions were high, emotions ran high, too

"It's hard to go through this re-enactment, but I think it helps people who were not alive at that time, and I think for a lot of people tonight, I think it's something they're experiencing firsthand for the first time," Cheatham said.

One of those people was Cleveland Heights resident Marc Baker. He said facing the choices and adversity Freedom Riders experienced decades ago was eye opening.

"I felt scared," Baker said. "It was hard to be caucasian, and to sit and know that that's what it was like, and there's still so much more that has to happen."

That's exactly why the Heights Community Congress organized the event -- a hands on way to understand the past and work together on the future.

"We can take responsibility, and we want to be able to understand our fellow people that we're sharing our community with, what they're thinking, how they're feeling," Heights Community Congress board member Martha Goble said.

The event ended with the group singing "We Shall Overcome" and having an open discussion.

"We've come to be a better country for having gone through it, even as bad as it was, I think we all are better people for it," Cheatham said.

Their main focus now is reaching out to youth. They have some programs planned in the schools to raise awareness, too.

There's also an event next month to promote fair housing.

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