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An empathy campaign to draw people together amid national division and vitriol.

Memphis, TN, Oct. 04, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr.


Three organizations are partnering to foster unity, understanding and empathy in the face of the ideological divide in America. The National Civil Rights Museum, Facing History and Ourselves, and BRIDGES have launched “Open Up. Spark A Connection.”, a digital campaign that prompts viewers to consider the proverbial saying, “Don't judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.”  Using social media and public service announcements to provoke empathetic conversations, the goal of the campaign is to encourage people to move out of their comfort zones, get to know one another, and initiate rational, compassionate conversations around topics including race, gender, equity and justice.

The idea “arose out of our coming together to talk about the state of this country and the cultural and the social tensions that were simmering, and because all of our organizations are charged with the notion of trying to bring people together of all walks of life. I think we all felt a responsibility to do something,” said Cynthia Ham, President and CEO of BRIDGES, a nonprofit that reaches across racial and socio-economic divides to provide students an opportunity to find their voice through unique experiential learning activities that are adventurous, relational and transformative. 

The organizations embarked on a creative journey with award-winning filmmaker Matteo Servente to develop a short film to inspire conversations in understanding. Servente has won Indie Memphis’ Best MLK50 Short Film for “An Accidental Drowning,” and the Best Hometowner Narrative Short Film Award for “We Go On.”

“Open communication doesn’t allow us to hide behind our biases, because it exposes them. Differences in the way we think and look should be a resource, but are too often perceived as a threat. The goal of the campaign is to show that the closer we get to each other, the less we have to fear,” said Servente.

Terri Lee Freeman, President of the National Civil Rights Museum, agrees, “As we were talking about empathy, we wanted to make sure that what we were presenting was something that didn’t push people away, but actually drew people in.  Matteo’s vision was one that was very positive, but also made you really think.  It was just a wonderful way for us to focus on thinking about the person next to you. Open up as you move forward, and talk to people, really get to know them.” 

The campaign includes unscripted video of a diverse circle of adults appearing to participate in lively, amicable conversations using stringed tin cans when suddenly the strings turn into fire-sparked dynamite fuses. The dialogue stops cold, and the participants stand isolated. Then a child steps in their circle, whispers to them, and causes a chain reaction that gets them to open up and talk again, but with closer, deeper conversations.

“One of the things I really love about the piece, is there’s this moment of crisis, and people don’t know what to do. They’re kind of paralyzed, and I think we all can relate to that feeling. Then you have this leadership of this little girl who is the one who is willing to be vulnerable and step out to get a conversation going. That’s what happens… Take a step. Start a conversation,” said Marti Tippens Murphy, Executive Director of the Memphis location of Facing History and Ourselves

On October 4, 2018, the yearlong campaign will also include resources on each of the organizations’ websites and social media platforms with the hashtags #SparkAConnection and #OpenUp. Viewers are encouraged to share their stories on how they’ve engaged in difficult conversations and their experiences in opening up to overcome differences. For more information, visit


BRIDGES unites and inspires diverse young people to become confident and courageous leaders committed to community transformation. Bridge Builders youth are empowered to reach across racial and socio-economic divides, are prepared for secondary educational opportunities and careers, and are engaged in civic affairs in their communities.

FACING HISTORY AND OURSELVES is an international educational organization that reaches millions of students worldwide every year. Using the lessons of history — and history in the making – Facing History equips teachers to provide students with the skills to think critically and wrestle with difficult issues. Teachers work closely with students to make personal connections between the past and their present. Our rigorous curriculum sparks their desire to look beyond themselves and participate in the broader world. We are creating future generations of engaged, informed, and responsible decision makers who when faced with injustice, misinformation, and bigotry, will stand up for justice, truth, and equality. Facing History transforms required lessons in history into inspired lessons in humanity to empower youth who will change the world for the better.

The NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM, located at the historic Lorraine Motel where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, gives a comprehensive overview of the American Civil Rights Movement from 1619 to the present. Since the Museum opened in 1991, millions of visitors from around the world have come, including more than 90,000 students annually. Serving as the new public square, the Museum is steadfast in its mission to chronicle the American civil rights movement, examine today’s global civil and human rights issues, provoke thoughtful debate and serve as a catalyst for positive social change.  

A Smithsonian Affiliate and an internationally acclaimed cultural institution, the Museum was recognized as TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Top 5% U.S. Museum, USA Today's Top 10 Best American Iconic Attractions; Top 10 Best Historical Spots in the U.S. by TLC's Family Travel; Must See by the Age of 15 by Budget Travel and Kids; Top 10, American Treasures by USA Today; and Best Memphis Attraction by The Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Business Journal.

Connie Dyson
National Civil Rights Museum