Meeting David Wilson

Two Men Of The Same Name, On Opposite Sides Of Freedom

MSNBC hosted a live taping of the documentary “Meeting David Wilson” at Howard University last week and held a panel discussion on race moderated by MSNBC’s Brian Williams.

“Meeting David Wilson” is a documentary hosted by Today show correspondent and former NFL star, Tiki Barber, about a young black man, David A. Wilson, from Newark, NJ who travels to meet the descendent of the slave owner who once owned his ancestors. Coincidentally his name is also David Wilson.

Wilson documents the lack of options for young black males in Newark with poignant images of what his life could have been. Snap shots of Wilson holding a crack pipe to his lips, in a body bag, and drinking whiskey on a park bench illustrated that life for black men in America often includes extra hurdles to jump, and many don’t clear these hurdles.

Wilson said that although he was born in the ghetto he never felt as if he was truly from there. “I always thought I was apart of something bigger,” he noted.

Wilson followed this instinct and traced his roots back first to North Carolina. and then to Ghana. He said one of his primary goals in doing this film was to inspire young people to research their family history as well.

“To find out that I was only three generations from being a slave knocked the wind out of me,” he said.

In the film, David A. Wilson travels to rural North Carolina and attempts to put himself in his ancestor’s shoes by harvesting tobacco by hand (in his Kappa Alpha Psi t-shirt, tennis shoes and black baseball cap), visiting the slave quarters where his family lived and worshiping in the church his great great grandfather, Rev. Reuben Wilson, built. Wilson then took his journey overseas to Ghana, where, through DNA testing, he discovered he descended from the Ashanti tribe.

Wilson’s family gives him advice and encouragement throughout his emotionally exhausting journey. After a hard days work in the tobacco fields, Wilson calls his Uncle Clarence. “We did not die in the fields, that’s why we’re here now,” his uncle told him.

Wilson also went to see his grandmother prior to meeting the white David Wilson. “He doesn’t owe you anything but respect,” she said.

The meeting between the two David Wilsons was cordial yet awkward with the white Wilson giving the other a tour of the plantation.

“Wow” was all Wilson could say when he stepped inside the slave quarters that his family once occupied. ‘I’m the manifestation of their prayers,” he said.

The two Wilsons sat together on the stage of Howard University’s Crampton Auditorium and opened the night’s discussion on race. David D. Wilson said participating in the film has given him a better understanding of why black America is struggling with high drop out, incarceration, and teenage pregnancy rates.

“David Wilson didn’t start out to start a fight, he started out to have a conversation,” Brian Williams said.

The conversation continued with a panel that included radio host Tom Joyner; author Michael Eric Dyson; entrepreneur Malaak Compton-Rock; Kriss Turner, who wrote the screenplay for the movie “Something New;” activist Kevin Powell; Boston Herald columnist Mike Barnicle; Tim Wise, director of the Association for White Anti-Racist Education (AWARE); the Rev. Buster Soares, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Howard University Professor of African American Studies, Greg Carr, PhD.

“Every child needs to see this film,” Compton-Rock said.

Powell said it is going to take the work and honesty of the youth to cultivate healing between the races. “I applaud brother Wilson for his work, especially being a young black brother of the hip hop generation doing something positive,” he said. “It’s going to take this generation to fix this problem.”