The Empathy Project in Roanoke aims to help heal community, prevent more acts of violence

ROANOKE, Va. – A new approach to address gun violence in Roanoke is called The Empathy Project.

Organizers said the goal of the project is to shine a light on families in Roanoke whose loved ones were murdered.

The Empathy Project shares those stories through paintings, photography, and poetry.

The project came to life with the help of Roanoke’s Youth and Gang Violence Prevention Coordinator, Chris Roberts.

“The best part about it is to be able to tell the family’s stories. And to show how courageous they are in their vulnerability. And being able to share their story publicly,” Roberts said.

Three painted doors honor the lives of Brooks Mullen, Nickalas Lee, and Markel Girty and are currently on display at the city’s municipal building.

Lee’s family told 10 News they hope this project shows how gang violence impacts the entire community.

“It is trying to make connections with people. The finality of a loss, the finality of that decision in that split second that they pull the trigger, the gun doesn’t just go off, somebody had to pull that trigger. So it is connecting the people to that and get people to feel that,” said Nickalas’ father, Darrell Lee.

“We’re hoping that the empathy will really take root and people will start treating people with kindness and love,” said Nickalas’ sister, Brandy Campbell.

Another part of The Empathy Project is photographs of people who have lost a loved one to violence.

These photos will soon be displayed on billboards throughout the Star City.

Some of the photos will feature the co-founders of the nonprofit prayer group, FEDUP, who lost both their father and brother to gun violence.

“People will start to realize we are affecting families and these are real people who have been affected. We want to start conversations and we want to start thinking of ways to prevent gun violence,” said FEDUP co-founder, Renea Taylor.

The billboards are expected to be up across the city next month.

About the Author

Sydney joined the WSLS 10 News team in June 2021.