Around two years ago, before he retired from his position as chairman and chief executive officer of ManpowerGroup, Jeffrey Joerres was looking at some photographs taken by a local artist and photographer named Sherry Lemke.
Lemke had been taking the photos of people around Milwaukee with different racial, economic and ethnic backgrounds. At the time, she planned to make them part of an art exhibit.
“She had these beautiful photos and felt they could do more good than just being photos,” Joerres said. “I met with her two years ago, and said, why don’t we have a campaign?”
Joerres and Lemke had watched as race relations soured and grew tense in cities around the country, particularly in places such as Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Maryland, unaware a similar narrative would soon play out in Milwaukee in the summer of 2016.
They wanted to start a community conversation about diversity, but rather than focusing on differences between people, they wanted to start it by finding common ground.
They decided to turn her photographs of people with very different backgrounds hugging, laughing and smiling into a city-wide visual campaign intended to promote diversity by putting them on billboards and buses.
They created a nonprofit organization called Many Faces One Humanity and began hosting community conversations four times a year to discuss the importance of inclusion at different locations around Milwaukee.
“Let’s think about the similarities of ourselves rather than the differences at the beginning,” Joerres said. “We’re segregated, but we also are a community of neighborhoods. We may have some diversity issues, but we also have a lot of great diversity stories. Milwaukee’s potential is great, but let’s achieve it. We are more the same than different.”
Lemke’s photographs began appearing on billboards around the city in October and the group will start a second campaign beginning next week on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
The new adds will grace billboards at the intersection of Highway 100 and Bluemound Road facing north, I-94 and Washington Street facing south, I-94 and 25th Street facing east and I-43 and West Juneau Avenue on the former Pabst Brewery silos facing north.
Each of the buses and billboards carrying May Faces One Humanity ads feature one of 19 different designs.
“We’re really hopeful that this campaign catches the imaginations of people,” Joerres said.
Many Faces One Humanity has received cash and in-kind donation from multiple Milwaukee area organizations, including Joerres’ former company ManpowerGroup, Johnson Controls, Mandel Group and Mike Crivello’s Camera.
Several leaders of businesses and nonprofit organizations have also gotten involved as members of the nonprofit organization’s board of directors.
For more information about the organization and its goals, visit the Many Faces One Humanity website.