After nearly 20 years away, Marti Tippens Murphy recently returned to Memphis to helm the city's chapter of Facing History and Ourselves. After leading the L.A. office of the non-profit, the Hickory Hill native and Rhodes College grad felt "the pull" to come home. As Director of the Memphis chapter of the non-profit, she is
working to provide essential tools for educators that deepen students' understanding of history and, as the name implies, themselves.
Tell us about your own educational experience.
I attended Rhodes College and earned a B.A. degree in International Studies.
I had a passion for social justice and a curiosity for travel--which took me to Los Angeles. There I worked in the food and beverage industry with the on-site catering company for Universal Studios. Later I worked with Wolfgang Puck in his first cafe at Universal Studios and earned the distinction of being "employee of the year."
But I was still looking for a way to make a social difference, so I went back to school, earning a master's degree in journalism from Cal State Northridge. I wrote my thesis about Charlotta Bass, civil rights activist and publisher of The California Eagle. That was the "AHA" moment for me, when I realized that history, stories and identities are all connected to making a difference, to affecting social change.
What brought you back to Memphis?
Seventeen-and-a-half years ago, I responded to an ad for a new office opening in Los Angeles for Facing History and Ourselves. My first day, I watched the office come together, literally hearing the screwdriver put together my desk. The last four years, I was the director of that office. Our organization has offices all over the country, with headquarters in Brookline, Massachusetts. When Rachel Shankman retired last year from the Memphis location, I saw the opportunity to come home and yet stay with the organization.
I've felt a pull over the years to come home. My family is still here. And as I've watched Memphis continue to grow and thrive, Memphis was a place I wanted to be.
What excites you about Memphis?
I'm excited by the passion that people have for making Memphis a better place and for fostering a strong sense of community. I've been really impressed with the community leadership here, especially people from the grassroots level who are willing to step up and take a role.
What is the change you would most like to see here?
I'd like to see more opportunities for more kids to get a good education so that they have a greater chance for a promising future. Through my work I feel a strong connection to helping make that change happen.
What excites you about your work?
Facing History has been in Memphis for over 20 years. However, we are at a real moment of opportunity to have a greater impact and reach more students. Our work deals directly with teachers to give them resources to help kids think about their choices and who they are--and to take an active role in society. We do that by taking a deep look at history and the choices of individuals. Our organization has been housed at Christian Brothers University
, but we are moving downtown to a location at Huling and Mulberry (across from the Civil Rights Museum
) and will be able to accommodate more groups. We should be in our new space by May.
And we have several new resources available. We have partnered with STAX Music for lessons about the history of STAX, "Sounds of Change," that give an example of blacks and whites working together while there was segregation everywhere else. They broke the mold and developed a way to explore the power of music for social change. That program is a free workshop for middle school and high school teachers that will be offered at STAX on March 30. Teachers can sign up to participate by visiting their website
Also, we have a new seminar coming out this summer titled "To Kill a Mockingbird."
This new curriculum guide explores the themes of identity, race and justice and how individuals in communities define themselves and their responsibilities toward others. That seminar will take place June 23-25.
Additionally, we have a new curriculum guide coming out at the end of February titled "The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy."
We have already completed one workshop and will be scheduling more. Teachers can download any of this curriculum information from our website--for free.
What is your favorite thing to do in Memphis?
Rediscovering the city's various neighborhoods.
Tell us something most people don't know about you.
I have a secret desire to be a bluegrass singer.