Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Godfrey on the Project

I hope this holiday season finds you well and, at some point, well rested. I'm writing in order share with you a project that I'm embarking on that I feel will require the support of my entire community of friends, family, and colleagues.

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 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.

This project is a huge endeavor, so Brandt and I will need lots of help, financially and otherwise.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: This ambitious trip will cost us around $5,200 (transportation, food, and lodging) and that's not including recording equipment. In the spirit of President-elect Obama's Campaign for Change, we are asking all of our friends and colleagues to donate $25 each to help us cover expenses during this trip. We figure if we can get 200 of our friends to donate $25 each, we'll be able to gather the material necessary to complete our project without being anxious about money. Please make donations payable to me, Godfrey Simmons. My address is 177 New York Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, 11216.

FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN MAKING TAX-DEDUCTIBLE AND/OR LARGER DONATIONS: We are currently in the process of securing fiscal sponsorship with THE FIELD, a non-profit in New York City that specializes in fiscal sponsorships for artists raising money for projects. Please call me directly at 347.406.6107 if you are interested in this option or if you'd like to use a card to donate.

WHAT DO YOU GET FOR YOUR MONEY?: First of all, you'll be able to follow our progress with DISPATCHES through our blog. We plan on uploading edited versions of our audio interviews, as well as some of our video interviews. Second, you'll be on the ground floor of what we feel is both a promising piece of theatre and a potentially important social document. Third, you'll have a timely tax write-off for your 2008 taxes should you choose the tax-deductible donation option.

OTHER WAYS YOU CAN HELP: We need places to stay in the cities and towns where we are visiting. One night's lodging will probably cost us at least $60, so that would be a huge savings. Our confirmed route will be posted on our blog, but but we're definitely hitting Greensboro, NC: Birmingham, AL; New Orleans, LA; Oxford, MS; Memphis, TN; Chicago, IL; and Philadelphia, PA. If you're interested in offering a place to stay OR if you have family or friends who could put us up please let us know ASAP. We also will need interviewees! If you know people in the places we mentioned above who would be great interview subjects OR could setBrandt and I up with some interesting people to interview, please let us know -- we're trying to talk to professors, military, teachers, laborers, baby boomers, college students, politicians, the working poor, and artists -- particularly theatre artists we meet along the way, and people of every race and religion.

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?

Thanks so much for considering this and please contact me by email or by phone if you have any questions.


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