The road to D.C. statehood has been long. D.C. mayors have included statehood in their plans for the city. Mayor Muriel Bowser has gone one step further by commissioning an educational video, “Becoming Douglass Commonwealth: From DC Disenfranchisement to Full Democracy,” that explains the trek to D.C. statehood that has gone on for centuries. Premiering on this year’s Emancipation Day, the video was produced and directed by Nolan Williams Jr., a musicologist, theologian, American songwriter and producer. The concept for the video went from a traditional D.C. Emancipation Day commemoration to the emphasis on statehood.
“The video morphed more toward statehood where we could view the obstacles we have overcome,” said Williams, a Washingtonian. “I was thinking what’s next? We have the best opportunity we’ve ever had.”
Statehood and Intense Struggle
Still a steep climb, there was a sign of hope last week when the House of Representatives approved statehood for the District in a party-line vote. Getting the word out about the importance of D.C. statehood is an ongoing tactic. Many members of Congress have been outspoken about why D.C. statehood is the right thing to do. There has been robust chatter on social media, especially Twitter. Legislators, D.C. area residents, and those in states near and far have been in lively conversation using the hashtag #DCStatehood. Also, the D.C. government was able to get three television stations in West Virginia, represented by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), to air “Becoming Douglass Commonwealth.”
“The video has been pushed out on social media.,” said Williams. “Copies of the video have also been sent to every member of Congress.”
“Becoming Douglass Commonwealth” <a href=”https://youtu.be/cNsrfpMiV40″ target=”blank”>can be viewed</a> on the YouTube channel of the DC Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment (OCTFME). Several departments within the District of Columbia government are showing segments of the video on their websites. Williams has the video posted on his company website NEWorks Productions (https://neworksproductions.com). Williams had a chance to work with former television news anchors Andrea Roane and Bruce Johnson who hosted the video.
Statehood History Lesson
Understanding Washington, D.C.’s history is necessary in gaining support for statehood. “Becoming Douglass Commonwealth” takes viewers back to the year 1791 when space was carved out of Maryland and Virginia to create the District of Columbia. In 1967, President Lyndon Baines Johnson appointed Walter Washington as mayor of the District. The president also appointed a deputy mayor and a nine-member city council. Seven years later, Congress passed the Home Rule Act of 1973 which gave residents of D.C. the right to elect its own government and its own governing laws. Still Congress had the final say in D.C.’s policies and budget.
“There was an enormous sense of hope and electricity in this town when we got home rule,” said former Mayor Sharon Pratt in “Becoming Douglass Commonwealth.”
Delivering for a Cause
Williams is used to creating history lessons against a musical backdrop. For nearly 20 years, he has been the music director and composer of new music for “Let Freedom Ring” produced annually for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday observance. As the pandemic began, Williams was touring with his civil rights musical “Stirring the Waters Across America.” The tour came to an abrupt stop. Fortunately, Williams was able to rework that musical to create “I Have a Right to Vote,” which became a 2020 voting rights anthem and music video. The video’s objective was to raise awareness around voter suppression, encourage voter education and registration, and increase voter motivation. “I Have a Right to Vote” featured Billie Jean King, Billy Porter, Chef Carla Hall, “Hamilton” cast member Christopher Jackson and actor Hill Harper.
“We reached 1.2 million people during the election cycle with the song. A lot of momentum came from people sharing,” said Williams.
Now, hope is riding high that “Becoming Douglass Commonwealth” will sway enough votes in Congress to legislate full state status for the District.
“This is the best opportunity we have for our future,” said Williams. “Who knows what will happen?”