Meet an Obama Alum Who is Using Stories From Our Past to Help Communities Move Forward Today
This month we caught up with Jason Green, an alum of the Obama 2008 campaign and Obama White House, to talk about his time in the administration and the role stories from our past can play in helping bring about truth and reconciliation today.
Jason directed Finding Fellowship Opens in a new tab , a new documentary which he co-produced with his sister Dr. Kisha Davis (White House Fellow '12) that recently premiered nationally on PBS. Centered around the Green family’s history, the film tells the story of three segregated churches in rural Maryland that merge into one congregation in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, while exploring themes of community, resilience, and overcoming division.
Q: To start, can you tell me how you ended up making this film?
A: Well I didn’t know I was making a film when I started. Originally, I just wanted to record my grandmother’s story.
In 2013 I’d been working at the White House for four and a half years and my grandmother was 95 years old. My grandmother had a significant role in raising me and introduced me to the idea of service. She would go volunteer at the local hospital and sit with people late in life—at 95, she ended up going into that same hospital, so I thought it appropriate to go sit with her and hold her hand in the same way she held other people’s hands, and capture her story.
At the time there was also a lot of talk nationally about division—which is still present today—and I remember hearing that the country hadn’t been this divided “since 1968.” It really resonated with me because my grandmother had told me this story from 1968 about people overcoming their division, and I thought perhaps this was a story that could help us as we try to figure out how we’re going to move forward into the future.
I have to say, I would’ve loved for someone else to come in and tell this story—I don’t have a background in film and the documentary process is a labyrinth unto itself. But we didn’t have the luxury of time to find other people or to raise money and hire someone else to do it, so we felt like we had to turn on the camera and start to capture that history.
Q: How did your experience working on the Obama campaign and in the Obama White House affect how you approached this story?
A: The film touches on this a bit, but not very directly. My dad decided to pursue the ministry when I was young. He would deliver these sermons in church that would call on our “better angels”, calling on us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. I saw people who were hungry to be a part of something in his congregation react to that and be inspired to do more than they thought they could.
Later I worked on the Kerry 2004 campaign and was at the Democratic National Convention in Boston when then-State Senator Obama gave the keynote address. And it felt like I was watching a preacher deliver a sermon to a hungry audience that needed to be reminded of their capacity to bridge division and be a part of something bigger. I remember watching that speech and feeling like a kid again. That’s what drew me to candidate Obama—that he would talk about the need to engage your communities to find solutions. That idea of community empowerment was core to the Obama legacy.
Q: What is Finding Fellowship about?
A: Finding Fellowship is a call to action that reminds us of our ability and responsibility to build community to make change. The film tells the story of three racially segregated Methodist churches—two white and one black—in rural Maryland that merge into one congregation in the late 1960s. Each less than three miles from each other, the three churches had fallen on hard financial times and could no longer support themselves. A microcosm of America, the story of Quince Orchard, and these three churches in particular, is a story of community, identity and possibility and demonstration of what can be accomplished with intention, purpose and sacrifice.
And as much as this film is about the merger of three churches it is also about demonstrating the importance of intentionally preserving our history and heritage. Of the three original churches there is only one that still remains – the black church. Our film is raising the awareness of that Pleasant View historic site and raising the funds to ensure it is saved and preserved to be a site for inspiration for generations to come.
Q: In February the film premiered on PBS nationally – what’s the response been like?
A: I feel really grateful and blessed that the film has gotten to have an airing. It’s available for folks to watch on particular air dates through PBS, but they can always download it and stream it (and I hope they do!) by going to findingfellowship.film Opens in a new tab to find specific air dates or watch the film directly.
It’s been interesting to see the responses but the most exciting part is that there are responses – that it lives independent of me and folks are having conversation and reactions. For example, a pastor in Flint, Michigan reached out to let me know that he organized a viewing for his predominantly white congregation to watch it with a predominantly black congregation and then hosted a discussion about how they might move forward in a more proximate relationship with one another. That was amazing. That’s what we want, for the film to be used as a tool to have these important conversations.
I also heard from one person after a screening who said, “Good, this is an example of Black people finally just getting over it.” And I had to have a conversation with him about how actually the truth and reconciliation process is really important. We can only put so much context in a 60 minute film, but what the film really is about is an acknowledgement of our past, dealing with that past, and the hope and possibility that can come – but only if we start with truth.
Q: To close, how can the Obama community connect with this project?
A: Telling this story about my own community felt like an extension of that work that so many of us were inspired to be a part of on the campaign. I know there are many in the Obama community that are still doing that work and if our film could be a catalyst for community work, through a screening or discussion, we would love to participate.
We are also leading an effort to save the Pleasant View historic site and turn it into a museum for generations to come. If folks within the Obama community would like to contribute or participate in the fundraising, or in the future visioning they can learn more about the preservation project at findingfellowship.film Opens in a new tab .