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Special Project

Special Project
From the 15th Annual Shorty Awards

Smithsonian Channel's Cyclebreakers

Finalist in Social Activism


The Harpo + Smithsonian Channel documentary The Color of Care examines the obvious disparities in medicine and healthcare within Black and Brown communities across the country in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. Cycle Breakers is a companion digital series which builds off of the storytelling foundation of the documentary and continues the conversation by amplifying the work of changemakers actively reshaping equitable healthcare for the future. As it is currently defined- to be a cycle breaker means to stand apart from the family and forge a new path away from the trauma and the heartbreak that keeps spreading over-and-over again. It’s a path of necessity and a path of survival. Cycle Breakers reframes that definition and highlights change makers who are disrupting the system head on and challenging the status quo with new and exciting platforms and organizations that address healthcare inequity and bias in underserved communities.
The campaign is designed to:

Inform: Share stories of the damaging impact of racial disparities in the delivery of healthcare
Inspire: Create urgency to address these disparities and elevate visible role models who are taking steps to drive tangible change in their communities
Activate: Empower stakeholders to identify intervention points where they have influence and to implement immediate solutions. And empower viewing audiences to work collectively to speak up and implement change where they can yield influence.

Strategy and Execution

Cycle Breakers is a critical companion digital series aiming to inform and engage young audiences as part of a national, multi-platform social impact campaign centering on the Harpo + Smithsonian Channel linear documentary The Color of Care.

Cycle Breakers is a key tactic executed as a six-part series premiering on Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Tiktok, and Twitter. Designed to inform and activate audiences throughout the year , the series amplifies individuals who are breaking harmful cycles of inequitable care by creating new solutions to improve the healthcare system. Releasing one new episode a month assures that we keep critical conversations moving forward, regularly reminding audiences that change is possible. As a key part of our distribution and outreach efforts, Oprah Winfrey recorded 60-second, heartfelt, “thank you” videos for all of our Cycle Breakers. The Oprah videos run across social platforms the week of the episode premiere contributing to a resurgence in awareness and conversation each month.

In order to bring this project to life authentically, we began by acknowledging that individuals have spoken up for, and actively created more equitable solutions in the healthcare industry for decades and can provide a blueprint for others to follow. We conducted extensive research to identify a diverse group of individuals who are best positioned to speak to the challenges being faced, while also delivering messages encouraging audiences to work towards a more equitable future. From new apps designed to match patients with culturally-competent caregivers, to medical students “re-schooling” audiences on TikTok, to critical medical research conducted in Latinx communities, we aimed to create a comprehensive series that addresses multiple issues across the industry while focusing on a solution-oriented tone and action plan.

Our biggest challenge throughout the series was keeping our subjects and crew healthy. Accepting delays and challenges that come with robust testing and PPE, the team assured our series, about healthcare, was implemented with the utmost care. Solutions included working remotely to cast, shoot, script, edit and publish videos all while keeping productions on schedule to meet our deadlines and goals for this project.

Our second biggest challenge was creating a series that engages medical students on social media. While medical care is not often a top-of-mind subject for young social audiences, our challenge led us to a robust TikTok community working to assure medical facts negate fiction. We featured a creator with a robust following in that space to maximize views and engagement. Joel Bervell is an impressive medical student who specializes in medical myth busting videos while also creating direct change in his community through a mentorship program teaching high school students basic medical techniques to inspire them to pursue careers in medicine. Joel’s TikTok-centered story is one of the series strongest episodes.


The monthly series launched in early May and has gained over a million views and positive audience engagements and responses. We elevated each Cycle Breaker’s mission and purpose and continue to engage audiences in discussions around racial disparities in healthcare and improvements that can be made in the industry.

We saw increased followers across social platforms as a direct result of these videos, demonstrating ongoing audience interest in these topics. Traffic from the videos driving to The impact hub indicates a genuine interest from audiences to take action after viewing the digital series. The Cycle Breakers themselves received a custom thank you message from Oprah Winfrey which further inspired each individual to continue on their own personal, impactful career paths. Moving beyond social media impact, the Cycle Breakers have been invited to speak at screening and speaking events across the country illustrating the ability of the series to serve as a catalyst to amplify their work.

Content for the first episode alone has earned more than 884K views and 6K Engagements. With more than 281K views, it was the brand’s second most-viewed YouTube video of 2022. With more than 602K views, it is the second most-viewed video on record for Smithsonian Channel Instagram.

Viewer responses are resoundingly positive, with comments including: “🙌🙌 thanks for challenging the narrative and breaking the cycles! Truly inspiring!.” and “So amazingggg 🙌🙌love to see someone doing great things in our community” and “This is absolutely so inspirational and SO important and significant! 👏🏽”


Video for Smithsonian Channel's Cyclebreakers

Entrant Company / Organization Name

MTV Entertainment Studios and Paramount Media Networks


Entry Credits