Emory Report
February 2, 2009
Volume 61, Number 18



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February 2
, 2009
Inauguration film viewed as link, spark

By Leslie King

Can film build a bridge? Can it be a solid representation of the atmosphere of hope, excitement, the spirit of unity and community?

That’s what a team from Emory’s Transforming Community Project has set out to discover in Project Inauguration 2009, a documentary about the inauguration of President Barack Obama.

As team member Heather Williams, a copyright specialist with Emory Libraries, put it: “I see the documentary as a way to encourage a continued dialogue about race relations at Emory, and in particular, how the inauguration of the first African American president may influence those relations.”

Team members split duties, with some traveling to the event to film and others staying put to help with logistics.

Traveling partners John Roberson, an Emory College senior, and Corey Dortch, assistant director of student services in the Goizueta Business School, started filming on the plane as they took off from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.

Arriving in D.C., “we were filming anything and everything we could,” Roberson said.

The two then took Amtrak to New York, where they continued to film the post-inauguration excitement.
Dortch said listening to stories of growing up in the segregated South in the 1950s and ‘60s, then “fast-forward 40 years,” was a powerful illustration of how much things have changed.

Roberson described meeting people from San Diego to Savannah, from an 80-year-old grandmother to a Republican attorney, marveling at “how open and willing to help people were. We just didn’t know what we’d get.”

Paralleling Roberson and Dortch’s effort, TCP project team co-leader Dan Jansen took off from Atlanta on Amtrak, starting his interviews, too, on the train.

“People of very different backgrounds had very different responses to the importance of an African American president,” he said.

Jansen, assistant study abroad advisor, said many realized Obama’s ascendancy was not an overnight miracle but a hoped-for momentum in race relations.

Jansen was struck by the history being made, from the significance of the inauguration to Martin Luther King Jr. service day. “There were a lot of MLK-Lincoln references throughout the speeches,” he says, “and looking back at how far we’ve come.”

Dortch and Roberson joined the King service project at RFK stadium where 85,000 care packages were prepared for the troops in Iraq.

For young people, Dortch says, “This is our civil rights movement, our opportunity to move forward.”

The biggest surprise to Jansen was how a lot of younger people weren’t concentrating on the first African American president but on policy change, or “getting back on track,” they said. It was “more about politics than race relations.”

The team plans a debriefing soon, followed by editing in February. An on-campus screening of the documentary is expected in April, and screenings beyond the campus are in the plans.

Roberson sees the documentary, funded by a TCP mini grant, as that of a bridge-builder across the University and the community.

“We hope that by making the documentary available to the larger Emory community, it will foster a continuing dialogue about the significance of the first African American president and the still ongoing issues in race relations in the nation and at Emory,” concludes Williams.