Milestone: Debut Film


In March of 2013, Jim Baggett, the head archivist of the Birmingham Public Library, contacted Sharon Davies, Executive Director of the Kirwan Institute, about the idea to have an international day of remembrance of MLK’s famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,”  50 years after its drafting.

Its April 16 anniversary was approaching fast.  The idea was to have the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” read by community leaders in cities around the globe on the anniversary.  She agreed to organize an effort here in Columbus.

The idea continued to evolve in unexpected ways, ultimately resulting in a non-fiction film that gives The Letter new life.

We believed it was important to include our community leaders. Our goal was to create a timeless educational piece that united Columbus and The Ohio State University’s leaders around this important and world famous literary piece.

The plan was to then gift the taped reading of MLK’s Letter by Columbus leaders to the Birmingham Public Library and the City of Birmingham.  That plan continued to grow when Kirwan’s invitations to various leaders (including U.S. Senators, Congress and State Senate Members, federal judges, university presidents, athletic leaders, business leaders, philanthropic leaders, Heisman trophy winners, and more) were eagerly accepted, and the recording of their segments got underway.   As one might imagine, with their busy schedules to contend with, that took some time to complete.

Once finished, thanks to the United Way of Central Ohio, we held its grand premiere November 3 at Columbus’ own historic Martin Luther King, Jr. Arts Complex. We recieved nothing but rave reviews and the community discussion afterward was so impactful, that we took the film on the road.

In the two months after the film’s premiere we’ve scheduled more than 17 additional screenings including; The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cinncinati, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus Urban League, The Ohio Attorney Generals Office, and more. Moreover, the film aired locally primetime on our PBS station.

Thanks to the Columbus Foundation we’ve distributed a DVD copy of this historical film to every Ohio school district and library system.

Charles Noble, Moritz College of Law Graduate and Kirwan Researcher was the producer of this film, handling many of the logistical details and ensuring quality. The film was directed by Jamaal Bell, Kirwan’s Director of Communications with the assistance of Rick Harrison and Joe Camoriano of University Communications. Bell also produced the visual effects and edited the film.