Moving The Goal Post

Five years ago, looking to jumpstart my path as an entrepreneur, I participated in a CEO Accelerator program. The class met for six weeks covering a compressed MBA curriculum with 12 non-competing business owners.  

Recently as I was organizing my home office, I came upon the very first worksheet we filled out in class.   It was a basic goal-setting chart. The first set of goals had to be personal in nature, and the second, for the business.   I had completely forgotten what I had put down for my personal goals:

  1. Own a Single Family Home

  2. Have a Second Child

  3. Build Up Savings

At the time of the class, my husband, son, dog and I were living in a small condo we had bought right before the housing market crashed in 2006.  From the day we bought it, it had lost tens of thousands of dollars in value. It took over six years for the house to recover back to the price we had paid for it.   At times, it seemed like our starter home was going to be our forever home.  But, in 2013,  we managed to sell the condo and buy a single family home on a street we had always loved; filled with kids, great neighbors, and, a home office (for me)  overlooking our backyard. It was the ideal place to re-start the business and our lives.

Fast forward to 2017, and, after two miscarriages, I am writing this post as I watch my baby daughter sleep...


There are days I can be so hard on myself. I wonder if my career is moving fast enough... Should I have made more films by now? Should I be making more money at a corporate job? Am I the best parent I can be? 

But when I re-visited the goal worksheet, I nearly cried realizing how much my life has changed in five years and how badly I wanted what I have right now.  Goal setting works, but not if we just keep ratcheting up the pressure on ourselves by moving the goal post further away while never looking back.  

The biggest lesson I learned from that accelerator class wasn't about marketing or management, it was the idea that your business is there to help facilitate your personal goals. Once you know what you want out of life, build your business to sustain that. 

Meet the Advisor: Dr. Brenda Gayle Plummer, Author of Rising Wind

           Dr. Brenda Gayle Plummer

           Dr. Brenda Gayle Plummer

As we began putting together Black Diplomacy’s advisory team, one name kept popping up - Dr. Brenda Gayle Plummer. Her book, Rising Wind, is considered by many to be the definitive text on the history of African American engagement in international affairs and serves as a key text in developing our film. In my discussions with other scholars,  it was almost taken as a given that if we were pursuing the subject matter of race, diplomacy, and international affairs then, of course, we must have spoken with Dr. Plummer. Even today, over a year since the beginning of the project, if I am interviewing or speaking with someone who has done research in the area of African Americans and foreign policy, diplomacy and diversity, that person will undoubtedly say, “Have you spoken with Brenda Gayle Plummer?” I’m very pleased, and proud, that I’m able to respond, “Of course. She’s on our advisory team.”

1. What inspired you to research and write Rising Wind?


At the time I began the book, few people linked African Americans with foreign affairs. Black Americans were assumed to inhabit the domestic realm only.  While much had already been written about Pan-Africanism and Back-to-Africa movements, and nationalism was a critical element of the African American world view, not all black engagement with international issues related directly to Africa or to race.  While exploring this, I also discovered that there was a grass roots component to it.  This information was not part of the conventional stories told about U.S. foreign relations and I wanted to use it to reinterpret the meaning of the African American experience in both the U.S. and global contexts.

2. In Rising Wind you detail the development of African American engagement in international issues during the early post WWII era. Can you briefly describe some of the factors that increased Black engagement in U.S. foreign policy?

In order to break Americans out of an isolationist mindset, the U.S. government made a considerable effort to create a favorable impression of the United Nations within the American public.  Many African Americans embraced the idealism inherent in the messaging they received, and moreover, regarded world opinion, especially in the early years of Cold War rivalry, as an instrument that could be deployed to pressure the federal government for changes on the racial front. Another major factor was the end of formal colonialism and the emergence of African nations that not only held a large degree of symbolic value for African Americans, but also might be marshaled as allies in the fight against racism in this country.  

3. What role did race play in U.S. foreign policy during the early Cold War period?

The State Department and the White House were not prepared during this time to admit people of color into highest levels of diplomatic service.  Their inadequacies were a reflection of the society as a whole, which remained committed to segregation until social movement pressure forced change.  

4. You once described African American diplomats during the early Cold War period as having to walk a "tightrope." Can you elaborate on what that means and the challenges these men and women faced?

During the early Cold War period, which for the sake of this discussion I'll denominate as 1946-1953, the majority of African Americans employed by the State Department held clerical or consular positions.  They nevertheless were expected to represent the United States abroad even if they were fully aware of the limitations of U.S. democracy.  The tightrope they walked is the balance they had to achieve between putting the best face on Jim Crow and discrimination while remaining enthusiastic about the yet unrealized American vision of freedom and justice.

5. Why do you think the stories we are highlighting in the film are important stories to tell today?

The public does not generally think of African Americans when it considers international matters. Yet African Americans have been central actors in diplomacy since the early nineteenth century, on behalf of the nation at large as well as on behalf of themselves.  The struggles they undertook to be perceived as worthy representatives of the nation mirrored the fight against slavery and racism that preoccupied the larger society in the past and continues to resonate today.  The figures under discussion are part of this long and ongoing historical process.

6. What are you currently working on?

Among current projects is a study of NASA's impact on African Americans and research on the late Congressman Charles Diggs.

7. What is your favorite documentary film?

I don't really have a favorite. Among those that I have liked the most are Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke, his 4 Little Girls;  and Ava Duvernay's 13th and Selma.


Dr. Brenda Gayle Plummer is a professor in the departments of History and Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

You can find her work here.

Black Diplomacy is grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities for supporting scripting and project development.



The Joy of Storytelling

The Joy of Storytelling

In the day-to-day grind of work, when you experience something that re-awakens you to the joy of the job, to that “thing” that made you go into the field to begin with, where you can take a step back and look at the bigger, broader picture of your place within that field, that’s a powerful moment. Validation and affirmation of career choice can come in many forms. Sometimes, as a small business owner it can seem elusive because of the many balls we juggle at one time.

In Order To Find Flow, You Have to Say No

It was just before the Fourth of July, 2014, I stood up from a chair while watching my son at swim practice and almost collapsed. Pain was shooting down my back and legs.  That night, I couldn’t change out of my clothes.  This was the beginning of 15 months of battling, what I would eventually learn, was a severely herniated disc.  It would take almost another year for me to find out what was causing the pain thanks to a spine specialist who twice refused me an MRI. Luckily, my General Practitioner eventually prescribed me an MRI that showed a serious herniation, surgery was suggested as the most likely solution. But first I would take the “conservative approach,” months of physical therapy, pain shots in my back, and a chiropractor who ultimately made it worse.  I eventually made the decision to get surgery in October of 2015 and two weeks later, I was virtually pain free. I was off pain medication, and bursting with energy.

The biggest lesson I learned from this experience was not to take my body for granted. I love working, I always have. Being laid up, cranky, and needing pain medication just to barely make it through the day was misery.  The injury also coincided with the year I agreed to be a board President of a non-profit and treasurer for my local PTA all on top of co-directing an independent documentary project and trying to re-vamp my business.  I was also raising my son and helping him navigate what was an extremely stressful fourth grade classroom experience.

I made a decision that coincided with my surgery and transformed my life.  I decided to take a year sabbatical from any and all volunteer work, free-advice giving, and helping on any low-budget or no-budget film project where I was not a central team member.  This at first went against my personality – I am a yes person, someone who loves to help others and derives joy from it.  I also hate turning down any opportunity.  But, what I realized was that I was suffering.  Not only from my back pain, but I wasn’t making the money I needed, in part, because out of the limited hours of available work time I had, much of it was going to volunteer projects and helping others while my own work was taking a back seat.

In the year and a half that followed I started focusing on what I really wanted to achieve. My partners and I launched FLOWSTATE Films, built our brand and website, brought in new and exciting projects and I’m making the most steady income since I began working for myself five years ago.  Saying no to the things I didn’t want to do, allowed for the opportunities I really wanted. Ultimately the concept of a company built around a flow state grew from learning how to cultivate this mental space.

And, just this month, I received the greatest gift of all for taking care of myself – the birth of my baby daughter, Charlotte.  Right now, I couldn’t feel more lucky and more in control of my time.

At first I worried that saying no would offend others, but, what was most surprising was how much people seemed to respect the boundary I had created for myself.  For a lot of us type-A women who enjoy leadership roles it can be hard to say no.  But, too often we are frazzled, running late, and missing the fun of our kids or even the fun of our careers because we have to get in the car and go to the next commitment.  The real sense of getting your life into a flowstate comes from knowing when to say no so that you can say yes when it matters most.

Looking Back On Our First Year In Business

It’s been over a month since our last blog post and this has been intentional. The election in November shocked us deeply as women, as citizens, and as a company. We took time to reflect on what tangible impacts it might have on FLOWSTATE and how we shape our business in 2017.

The question we asked ourselves was, what can we now do to make the biggest impact to promote and give voice to issues we care about? How can we further promote racial, economic, and social justice as media makers? This has always been at the center of what drives us as a company and in the films we make, but the election reminded us of the fragility of sustaining these core values in our society and we will be exploring and actively inviting collaboration with others with the same intentions moving forward. 

As we come to the end of this year, we are also  reflecting  on our first full year in business and want to share the major lessons we have learned along the way. 

#1 A Solid Operating Agreement

We spent a few months before we formalized the business talking about our goals, expectations, and the realities of our lives.  We each had outside business projects and personal demands that impacted our availability to work entirely on starting up the new business. By talking through our individual levels of capacity openly we were able have realistic expectations on each other and avoid some of the resentment that could have emerged if some partners had more time to give than others. We also made sure to have honest conversations about our financial needs and therefore our financial expectations on the business. Working through potential disagreements and how to solve them in the beginning has made on-going decision-making much easier.  

#2 Candid and Honest Reflection

As three creative and passionate people, we each have strong opinions about our work, the company, and our creative output.  There is no creative hierarchy among us.  Instead, we are highly collaborative.  But, this can lead to heated creative disagreements where our feelings are at stake.  Over the last year or so there have been conversations and disagreements about how to collaborate.  While we are still navigating this, we have learned that openly talking through our process and how we like to receive feedback has proven key.  By knowing how someone prefers to receive feedback on their creative work we end up helping each other grow while communicating more effectively.  

#3 Staying True To Our Mission

Looking back on the bulk of our work in 2016 a pattern emerged - much of our work has been exploring individuals and organizations who contribute to making their communities a better place; whether that’s profiling innovative faculty at George Washington University, exploring the contributions of African American diplomats during the cold war, or celebrating great acts of charitable giving. These stories inspire us on many levels, but, they have also proven that by making films for and about individuals, companies and organizations that we admire, we continue to see new doors open for similar projects.

#4 Our Friendship Is Imperative

At the end of the day, we were friends before FLOWSTATE Films started and want to stay that way. By relying on radically honest conversations, self-reflection, and just being friends to one another, we are building a business that we all want. One that is allowing us more freedom and control over this phase of our careers, the ability to cultivate projects we enjoy, work-family balance, and a creative partnership that builds each other up.  

We are excited for 2017 and what lies ahead for FLOWSTATE Films as we continue the process of building a sustainable business and creating media that has impact.  

Thank you to all who have been reading the blog this year and for the many friends, family, colleagues and clients who have encouraged and supported us this year! Wishing you a happy and healthy 2017!  Leola, Kiley & Rachell  

Thank you to all who have been reading the blog this year and for the many friends, family, colleagues and clients who have encouraged and supported us this year! Wishing you a happy and healthy 2017! 

Leola, Kiley & Rachell  

Some Free Advice On How To Ask For Free Advice, Five Tips

After I completed my first independent film and started giving talks on filmmaking, I noticed that I started receiving requests for advice from other first-time filmmakers and others looking to work in production more broadly.  While I have always been the type of person to happily give career advice, as I get older, and my time is more compressed by work and family commitments, these requests can feel like a one-way street.  I have compiled a list of few suggestions and etiquette to think about for anyone approaching another person for advice.

#1 Do Your Research First

I’m not the type of person to ask for a lot of free advice, I like to learn the hard way. I’m sure this is generational.  When I need to learn something, I tend to learn it either by figuring it out myself, learning on the job, or paying for the advice/schooling. Before asking another person for advice, think first how you might approach the decision and include that in your ask for advice, “Here’s what I was thinking, what do you think?”  

#2 Be Flexible    

Entrepreneurs work for themselves so whether it’s taking a vacation, a sick day, or an hour to give advice it represents time away from earning money.  In my case, I am also a mom, so I’m juggling multiple hats for my business and family.  This often leads me to waking up very early in the morning to work so I can be finished with my work day when my son comes home from school. Thus, I will often suggest that the person call me at or before 9AM so that my workday isn’t too interrupted. And yet, it’s very rare that someone who wants something for free is able to do that.  I assume most people have to work after 9am, so it surprises me someone can’t manage to make a call at a time that should seemingly be more convenient.  If this time is truly impossible, offer several different suggestions of when you can talk as going back and forth on email to set up a meeting is a huge waste of time.  

Even better don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and cold call the person to set up a time to talk. It’s much easier to schedule a meeting on the phone than email.  Phones still work! And, you might find you've caught them at a moment when they could speak right then and there. 

#3 Meeting in Person Is Optional

When you ask someone to go to lunch or meet for coffee, you are asking them to take a few hours out of their day. A phone call or Skype call can usually suffice. Or, if you really want to meet in person, offer a location convenient for them and certainly offer to pay.

#4 Get Approval Before Making An Introduction

I often get emails from someone I know introducing me to a job seeker or someone looking for industry advice.  I recently heard a great piece of advice on a podcast, that introductions should be approved by both parties in advance.  I love this, as it is respectful of the person’s time and doesn’t create an unsolicited obligation. I’ve found that this gives me the chance to set some boundaries out of the gate such as the reality that I am really slammed at the moment and not readily available, or, that the information that person is seeking from me is proprietary and I can’t share it.  This helps manage expectations for everyone.  

#5 Give Credit Where Credit is Due  

If you take advice and you A. Make money, B. Find success, C. Were saved from from making a huge mistake, please let the person know.  This isn’t just about a thank you note (although that is nice too); it’s about acknowledging how the advice was useful.  Likewise, if you take advice and learn something different that could help the person who gave you advice, please also let them know, as we all like to learn too. Lastly, if you find you are repeatedly asking the same person for advice, consider acknowledging them in a more formal way either as a paid consultant or as an advisor. This allows this advice-giver to be properly recognized for their contributions. 

Kiley Kraskouskas is a producer and writer who does enjoy offering advice and sharing her experiences. She is available for talks as well as consulting through FLOWSTATE FILMS.  

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8 Things Every Indie Director Should Bring on a Film Set

Recently Filmmaker Magazine posted an article about what women filmmakers wear to set. Think about that for a second. Why is there an article written about what female filmmakers wear to set? Is there a similar article detailing what the style choices are of male directors and what they wear on set? Of course not. To be fair, the Filmmaker Magazine article was in part a parody response to Refinery 29’s post about what different women should wear to dress for the job they want. One of those jobs was “film director.” Their idea of what dressing for success for a female filmmaker included; “you'll likely be on your feet for long days on set, but still don't want to look sloppy, so opt for a thick "grandma"-style heel that can last you the whole day.”

Rachell Shapiro with the cast and crew from her film, From Hell to Here.

Rachell Shapiro with the cast and crew from her film, From Hell to Here.

Um, right. If the people writing the Refinery 29 article knew anything about the business of actually making a film they would know heels would be the last thing most women would think to wear on set – grandma or otherwise. But that’s beside the point because what women filmmakers wear on set is irrelevant. Unless someone wants to write an article interviewing both men and women and what they both wear on set then this type of article has no place in either online magazine.

So, in response to this I’ve decided to make a list of eight things, some non-traditional and in no particular order, that we at FLOWSTATE Films think might actually be helpful for anyone who is making an indie film to bring to set:

  1. A Good Attitude – This before anything else can make or break a production day. If you’re in charge on set, you set the tone. If you have a bad attitude no one is going to respond with their best work. Conversely, if you have a great attitude and project that on set – you’ll create an atmosphere where everyone wants to work their hardest and do their best.
  2. Detailed Shot list – this seems obvious but not every producer/director does this. Some like to go in with just a general outline or loose idea of what they want to capture. Occasionally that might work. But if you want to be efficient and make your day, plan, plan, plan. And then if you have to change your plan (which inevitably you will) you’ll be OK because the work-around will be obvious with all of your up-front planning.
  3. Call Sheet – Bring your call sheet to set and put it in your production binder. It's your catch-all for info. If someone’s late – go to your call sheet. If you can’t remember the name of your grip – go to your call sheet. What time is lunch – call sheet. And bring extras, that way when actors or other crew come up to you and ask you questions that you don’t have time to answer, you can tell them to check their call sheet and if they don’t have it, give them another copy.
  4. Water/Coffee – Hydration is KEY for lasting a long day on a set. If you’re lucky enough to be on a set with craft services than great, you don’t have to worry about getting water or coffee because they’ll have it. If you’re on a super low budget indie where you are responsible for pretty much everything, BRING WATER for your crew and cast. It’s a must. And if you bring coffee it will make everyone your best friend.
  5. An Extra Pair of Socks/Shoes – Sometimes shoots call for 12hr days standing on incredibly hard surfaces with little to no time to sit down. I learned this trick from a gaffer on a shoot in Indianapolis - if you change your shoes or socks half way through the day you almost feel like you had a little foot massage. It’s pretty incredible how refreshed you will feel.
  6. Deodorant – Whether you’re inside or outside and whether it’s cold or hot. Most likely you’re going to be moving constantly over 10-12hrs and after about 4-5 of them you’ll notice you don’t smell as fresh as you did in the morning. And when you have to cram into a corner with your DP, AC, Audio Tech and Gaffer – you’ll appreciate that everyone threw their deodorant into their set bag in morning.
  7. A Sense of Humor – Production days are long and usually hard and stressful. As much as you can as the leader of the set, keep it light and have a sense of humor. The more people enjoy themselves on set the better performances you’ll get out of everyone. And they’ll love working with you and want to work with you again. Which is key in this business.
  8. Confidence – When you are running a set you’ll probably be working with a crew and cast of mixed experience. You’ll likely be working with men and women who have been doing this for more years than you – and there will be skeptics about your ability. But as long as you are confident in your vision, plan well, speak with authority and don’t take BS if someone tries to dish it out – you’ll earn respect quickly. The respect of your crew and talent can make for a smooth or turbulent production.

So, when making your set check list think about being prepared for more than just what you have to shoot. What do you need to keep yourself sane and happy throughout the day? What would your crew need to stay sane and happy - from your AD down to your PA (if you’re lucky enough to have one.)

Overall, be kind, be prepared, have fun…and leave the grandma heels at home.


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Meet the Advisor: Dr. Carol Anderson, Author of White Rage

          Dr. Carol Anderson

          Dr. Carol Anderson

When preparing a grant proposal for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), it’s critical that you have a strong, well-informed core group of humanities scholars at the top of their fields as part of your advisory team. It’s really their insight and knowledge that keeps your project solid in its scholarship and relevant to the humanities themes the NEH wants to see woven throughout your film’s narrative arc. After Dr. Michael Krenn, the author of the book Black Diplomacyagreed to join our project as an advisor, it was time for me to reach out to other scholars whose work was reflected in the themes of the film. I asked Dr. Krenn for his suggestions on scholars who could contribute to this conversation and without hesitation he said, Dr. Carol Anderson. The word he used to describe her was “dynamic” and after my first conversation with her, I knew he was right.

Dr. Carol Anderson is a professor of African American Studies at Emory University and her research centers on the interconnectedness of the American civil rights movement and decolonization. I knew immediately I wanted her as part of our team because her work really gives context to our film’s story. During the time our main protagonists were breaking down barriers in the State Department, African American leaders were making connections between the struggle for freedom at home with the struggle for freedom abroad, and organizations like the NAACP were actively seeking more representation in the State Department and other institutions so that black voices and interests could be put on the agenda. But it’s not only Dr. Anderson’s work that intrigued me; she is sharp, engaging, and can tell a good story. I knew we needed to get her in front of a camera. It’s no surprise she was recently named as one of the Politico 50, or that her contribution to Jesmyn Ward’s The Fire This Time and her most recent book, White Rage, have garnered such wonderful critical acclaim. Lucky for us, she wanted to be part of the team.

1. Much of your research looks at the NAACP and the work it did to link the international movements for independence and self-determination with the domestic civil rights struggle. What inspired you to pursue this research?

Several factors came into play.  The first book, Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944-1955 (Cambridge: 2003)began as a research paper in a graduate seminar.  I was intrigued how scholars of civil rights, decolonization, and the Cold War barely referenced each other.  It just didn’t seem logical that the same people kept popping up in these disparate stories occurring at roughly the same time but without the knowledge of their engagement in these other realms.

On a more personal level, I wanted to understand how my neighborhood, with so many God-fearing, hardworking people devolved into the ‘hood’ – high unemployment, drugs, no grocery stores, no significant businesses, resource-starved schools -- especially in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and its achievements.  I came across Malcolm X’s saying on human rights, which was heralded at the time, and was intrigued.  But, as I began my research, I realized that the NAACP with W.E.B. Du Bois had actually conceptualized the black freedom struggle as a human rights issue in the 1940s (two decades before Malcolm!).  The Association asserted that black equality, given hundreds of years of slavery and Jim Crow, would require not only the right to vote, the right to a fair trial, freedom of speech, etc., but also the right to education, housing, employment, etc.  Then my question became, if the NAACP saw the importance of human rights in the early 1940s and fought for it, why were so many people applauding Malcolm like it was the first time it had ever been said?  What could be powerful enough to create that depth of amnesia, in less than twenty years, between the NAACP and Malcolm’s human rights activism?  The answer began to unfold in the archives.  The Cold War and anti-communism led conservatives, the Southern Democrats, the State Department, and many white liberals to link human rights with the Soviet Union.   For example, the basic right to health care became demonized as “socialized medicine.”

Bourgeois Radicals: The NAACP and the Struggle for Colonial Liberation, 1941-1960 (Cambridge, 2014) also emerged out of the archives.  Nearly 40 years of scholarship asserted that because of the Cold War and President Truman throwing some civil rights crumbs to the Association, the NAACP turned its back on anti-colonial movements.  That story had been repeated so often, it was just taken as fact.  Gospel.  Well, when I was finishing up Eyes Off the Prize, I made one last run through the NAACP Papers at the Library of Congress, to ensure that I hadn’t missed anything.  I looked at the finding aid again, but for the first time really saw it.  There were all of these boxes marked “Africa”!  If the NAACP turned its back, I thought, what was it doing with all of this correspondence that took up box after box after box?  I was curious (nice word for “nosy”) and peeked in one of the boxes although it was not on my research agenda for that week.  There was this letter, dated 1949, two years after the NAACP had supposedly abandoned colonial people struggling to be free.  The note was from Abdullahi Issa, the head of the Somali Youth League, thanking the Association for all of its help in the United Nations to keep Italy from regaining control of that colony.  I was stunned.  This wasn’t supposed to be.  The NAACP was not supposed to be engaged in this at all; everybody said so.  Once I put Eyes Off the Prize to bed, I began work to uncover what the Association was doing.

It turns out they were “inside” fighters; working the halls of power and in the bureaucracies to delegitimize colonialism and empires.  They systematically maneuvered to change what had been a source of status and power into something with so much baggage and opprobrium the European powers were forced to eventually jettison. (Note it wasn’t as smooth and glib as that sentence, but increasingly in the UN, Britain, France, Belgium & co. were on the defensive.)

2. The NAACP was very persistent in lobbying the State Department for more representation and inclusion in the Foreign Service. In fact, Edward R. Dudley, the first African American ambassador, was tapped by Walter White, the head of the NAACP at the time, to represent the U.S. in Liberia. How important was the NAACP in getting more representation in the State Department?

Ambassador Edward R. Dudley                Photo Credit:                    Amistad Research Center

Ambassador Edward R. Dudley

               Photo Credit:                    Amistad Research Center

The NAACP asked out loud and repeatedly how the United States, in taking on the Soviets, could strut across the global stage as the Jim Crow Leader of the Free World?  It was an oxymoron.  If the United States wanted to model what a thriving democracy looked like, particularly to a world that was overwhelming comprised of people of color, then the Foreign Service could not be hampered by racial discrimination. In short, the nation’s representatives needed to be representative of the nation. That was easier said than done, which gives some indication of how entrenched racism was – even in the face of a national security imperative.  As Michael Krenn so beautifully laid out, the State Department had its own version of the chitlins’ circuit, which were the limited number of nations where African Americans could be posted.  Liberia was one of those nations.  

3. The racial violence and segregation between the 40's and 60's really called into question the legitimacy of American democracy and freedom. Do you think this crisis of legitimacy is still relevant today?

           Photo Credit: Nation of Change

           Photo Credit: Nation of Change

Absolutely.  While the military and economic might of the United States are not to be discounted, what makes those more fungible is the nation’s soft power – the notion of a city on a hill, of the Land of Opportunity, of a rights-based society.  Yet, one dead black body after the next – Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Aiyanna Stanley-Jones, Kathryn Johnston, Michael Brown, Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorsimond, Jonathan Ferrell, Sean Bell, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose, Walter Scott . . . . . . Has led the British newspaper, Guardianto begin to document the number of deaths at the hands of the police in the United States.  And even though his hands are blood-drenched, President Rodrigo Duterte pointed to all of the African Americans slain by the police and dared President Obama to even broach the subject of the killings in the Philippines. 

The multiple deaths, the overwhelming refusal of the justice system to indict or find guilty, and the racial violence at rallies for Donald Trump, have caused many in the international community to question what is happening in the United States. 

4. Why do you think it's important to tell these stories?

The National Museum of African American History opened this weekend. On stage with the president was the daughter of a man who had once been enslaved.  We are still in living memory of chattel slavery.  The stories of struggle, hardship, achievement, honor, and victory are the threads that weave together this tapestry of America.  Without these stories, the fabric is weakened, there are holes, and the margins are frayed and become even more tattered.  A nation’s history is silenced without these stories.

5. What are your current projects?

I have a shorter piece on the politics of respectability.  I’m starting a new book project on African Americans and Haiti, Congo, and Nigeria in the 1960s.  I’m also finishing up an article on the collaboration between the NAACP and the African National Congress to take down a series of World Bank loans to apartheid South Africa in the early 1950s (well before the divestment movement).

6. Since we are making a documentary, we can't end the interview without asking this central question: What is your favorite documentary film and why?

Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Here you see the power of the seemingly powerless non-violently topple a corrupt, blood-thirsty regime.  Women, undaunted by educational or religious differences, banded together to stop the civil war in Liberia and oust President Charles Taylor. 


Carol Anderson is the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of African American Studies at Emory University.

You can find her work here.

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