On March 20 MacArthur Fellow and National Humanities Medalist Anna Deavere Smith led a Master Class in Empathy with 120 Philadelphia-area leaders, including former mayor Michael Nutter and Police Commissioner Richard Ross.
The class effectively launched “Move in Closer,” a series of activities designed to celebrate Leadership Philadelphia’s 60th anniversary. Founded in 1959, Leadership Philadelphia mobilizes and connects the talent of the private sector to serve the community. It is the original and flagship model for 400 such organizations across the country.
The year-long sweep of “Move in Closer” activities is partially funded in partnership with PHC through a National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman’s Grant.
During the Master Class, Smith guided participants in using what she calls “empathic imagination.” One exercise asked them to pair off to ask each other “Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do? Have you ever been close to death? Do you know the circumstances of your birth?” and then perform back their partners’ answers.
“What an incredible experience,” said PHC Executive Director Laurie Zierer, who participated in the class as a Leadership Philadelphia alum. “By sharing skills connected to her deep theater expertise, and teaching us to apply them to our lives and communities, Anna Deveare Smith put the humanities in action to open our minds, and reveal new horizons of possibility.”
Over the next year “Move In Closer” activities will be documented and produced for broadcast by Philadelphia public radio station WHYY and covered by the Philadelphia Inquirer on multiple platforms. (Read Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Ronnie Polaneczky’s account of the Master Class here here and Julie Zeglen’s recap for Generocity here.)