Using Creativity to Empower
Charlie Murphy, musician and youth mentor, died on August 6, 2016, aged 63
“As we do this work, in various parts of the world, I see a common question that connects all the youth – at its essence it is ‘How do I live a life that makes sense?’”
— Charlie Murphy
Charlie Murphy’s life began making sense after experiencing a transformative summer camp as an adolescent. Although he didn’t remember how he discovered Camp Claggett, led by a group of adults involved in the human potential movement, the experience set Charlie on a path that would ultimately impact hundreds of thousands of youth all over the globe.
The summer experience turned him on to the power of groups and the creative processes that can build communities. He began studying sociology at Loyola University in Baltimore. Charlie spent his summers working as a camp counselor and studied group facilitation at the Center for mid-Atlantic Trainers; he became their youngest facilitator.
After college, Charlie worked for a time in youth mental health services. Disillusioned with being asked to help young people adapt to a world in turmoil rather than empower them to improve it, he decided to make change through his other passion: music.
Touring the country as a folk singer, Charlie sang openly about gay rights and feminism. He appeared on the landmark 1979 album “Walls to Roses” featuring both gay and straight men who supported the struggle against sexism.
In the late 80s Charlie teamed up with cellist Jami Sieber to form Rumors of the Big Wave. His AIDS anthem, “I Choose Life”, landed the band a spot as featured artists on a Barbara Walters special commemorating the 20th anniversary of the AIDS crisis.
Playing with notable artists like Ziggy Marley, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, and Midnight Oil, Rumors of the Big Wave toured nationally and internationally and produced several award-winning albums. “Burning Times,” one of Charlie’s best-known songs, became an anthem of the women’s movement; the band performed it at the LGBT March on Washington in 1993. Irish folk rocker Christy Moore later covered the song on his 2005 album of the same name, and it ultimately climbed to #3 on the Irish pop charts.
Throughout his music career, Charlie never lost his desire to empower youth. Eventually he decided to combine these passions, bringing the arts and creative expression into experiential education, facilitation, and youth work.
In 1996, Charlie met Peggy Taylor, a journalist who would become his creative partner for the rest of his life. Together they ran their first camp, calling it Power of Hope. Their method of integrating the arts into youth development, which would they would eventually call the Creative Community Model™, quickly caught fire and began to spark a transformation in youth work. In 2005, Charlie was awarded an Ashoka Fellowship in recognition of his lifelong achievements as a change maker and for his groundbreaking work in the youth development field.
In 2006, Charlie and his husband Eric Mulholland, a theater artist, began co-leading youth programs and conducting practitioner trainings in Uganda, South Africa, Italy, and the UK. To further grow the international work, in 2009 Charlie teamed with Peggy and UK-based entrepreneur Ian Watson to found PYE Global: Partners for Youth Empowerment. Focusing on providing Creative Community Model training to youth-serving organizations, together they developed an international network of PYE partners and facilitators. With 30 partners in 15 countries, PYE has empowered more than one million youth to date.
A Lasting Impact
Charlie’s true impact with both community building and personal development can perhaps be most clearly seen in the words of the trainers and facilitators he has mentored. Here are just two examples of many:
“Charlie had a way of gathering people together with natural ease and grace.”
“Charlie Murphy came into my life at exactly the right moment, to help me re-find my heart’s wellbeing through self-expression and service to young people.”
Charlie’s legacy is one of using creativity to transform groups into communities, helping people make just a bit more sense out of their lives.