Monday, January 05, 2009

Dispatches from (A)mended America

Saturday night I was a part of an interview process for a creative media piece called "Dispatches from (A)mended America." I will let you make your own judgment based on their own description of themselves.


Background: In the 24 hours following the historic 11PM announcement of Barack Obama's landslide victory on November 4th, I saw a euphoria I had never witnessed before. People were beaming, dancing in the streets, congratulating me, making quiet yet meaningful eye contact with me. Even I -- who was more than skeptical about the likelihood that America would ever send an African American to the White House as late as November 3rd -- even I called my father in tears, held my wife in my arms. "It happened," I said. "We made it happen." "We did it" seemed to be the day's subtext, even among those who didn't vote for Obama. I felt it too. However, I also felt something that lurked behind the euphoria and the historic implications of the election: Now that we've elected a black man as President for the first time, what do we do now? What happens next? Is "the race question" answered? And what are we going to do with all of this hope and optimism and new found civility in American public life? I am curious if other people are having the same feelings of anxiety, confusion, anticipation, and yes, hope that I am. I want to find out how this election has affected the lives of individual Americans. I want to hear the personal stories of Americans as we head into this truly New Age, an age defined, for now, only by its potential.

In the month leading up to the Presidential Inauguration, I will be traveling throughout America with my friend and colleague Brandt Adams to interview Americans about this watershed event. The guiding questions will be: What does the election of America's first African American President mean to you? Has this changed your life and if so, how? Has this changed America? What do we do now? We feel we can best investigate these questions by soliciting real Americans' own stories of the 2008 presidential election through their eyes and in their own words. What are their hopes for the President elected on hope? What suggestions can they give to an Obama administration that would keep them engaged in the governance of our country?

The interviews, which will hopefully be digitally recorded either on audio or video, will form the basis of a documentary theatre piece called DISPATCHES FROM (A)MENDED AMERICA. Brandt and I, two displaced sons of the South, will begin traveling on December 28th along the same routes used by The Freedom Riders in 1960 and then make our way from Mississippi, North toward Chicago, retracing The Great Migration of African Americans from 1910-1940. Finally, we'll make our way eastward through Philadelphia, finally landing in Washington DC on January 19th in time for the Presidential Inaugural Ceremony. We plan to interview people in Farmville, Virginia, home to one of the school districts included in the original five cases comprising Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka; Greensboro, site of the first civil rights sit-in at Woolworth's; and Oxford, Mississippi, where James Meredith integrated the University of Mississippi in 1962. The fact that Brandt is a 25-year-old white man born and raised in Virginia and I am a 42-year-old black man raised in Virginia only serves to amplify the resonance of this project to us both personally and politically.

You'll be able to keep track of our travels on our blog,, where we plan to upload excerpts of some of our interviews and our thoughts on the journey.

The election of Barack Obama has initiated a time of both euphoria and fear. Euphoria at the prospect of America finally living up to the promise of the Declaration of Independence; fear at the immense challenges that lay ahead for our country and our new leader. Halfway between Euphoria and Fear -- what better place to create a piece of theatre?

I have to admit, I was a bit wary going into this interview. I had been asked to do this interview and I wanted to be a part of this project, mainly because I really do think it is a fabulous idea and I am super excited to see where it goes. However, I was aware of the possibility that the guys conducting the interviews already knew a little bit about me because of the connections that we have. Now, let me go ahead and state for the record, that I am not by any means ashamed of what I believe. However, because I tend to be more conservative and am a registered Republican, I was a little scared that I was going to be turned into the angry, white conservative lady that hates black people and "clings to her guns and religion." I know that I am not that, but I also know how these types of things tend to go. I was pleasantly surprised to find my experience to be quite the opposite. I was treated with the utmost respect and was questioned without my feeling that there were ulterior motives. In fact, I really like Godfrey and Brandt. They are pretty neat guys.

I was heavily questioned about my faith. Not in an ugly way, but in a sincerely curious manner. I believe that the best kind of journalist knows how to ask the right questions and then let the interviewee just talk. Brandt and Godfrey are very good at this.

Audio clips will be up soon and I will be following the blog on a daily basis to keep up with these guys. You can follow too with the link above.

I am still formulating thoughts on my experience with "Dispatches from (A)mended America." I will write again soon when I have more structured thoughts and comments. For now, I wanted to share the fact that I was a part of this project and make others aware of the journey that two random guys are making in an effort to make a difference. Rock on.

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