Reunion? More like a Regiment!

When the Stafford and Harris families get together, you better have a big backyard.

Back in 2008, I remember taking a memorable phone call. A woman named Jessica Stafford Davis was on the line asking whether I would be able to photograph an inaugural event. A big inaugural event. At the time of our conversation, she didn't have many details but what she told me was this: a foundation I hadn't heard of was going to rent out all of the rooms at the JW Marriott downtown, arguably the most prime parade viewing location there is, and give most of those rooms to people who you don't usually associate with black tie dinners and balls: the homeless, the elderly, the sick and the disenfranchised. Could I photograph it, she asked.

Years later I laugh even as I type this out. Because after I hung up the phone that afternoon I remember thinking, this sounds way too crazy to be true. The whole JW Marriott for the homeless?? On inauguration day??? I've never heard of the Stafford Foundation!

Well, not only did it turn out to be true but covering the People's Inaugural that January turned out to be one of the greatest assignments of my life, a weekend in which not a soul cared about how powerful, wealthy or influential you were. The opposite was true. An army of volunteers, many from the Alfred Street Baptist Church right here in Old Town, became the beating heart of an endeavor so large and so ambitious it still gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

Homeless women were given manicures and fitted with donated gowns; 100-year-old Katrina survivors were bussed up to Washington; Tuskegee Airmen chatted up eager high school students; and disabled adults--folks who would have never had this chance in their entire lives--danced for hours, their wheelchairs spinning to the the beat.

I won't forget that event for as long as I live. And though it took an army to pull it off, the idea was the product of a remarkable man named Earl W. Stafford.

Now I've been known to rally around a cause every once in a while but Earl Stafford set a standard of giving that weekend that few will ever surpass. His selflessness and sense of duty to those less fortunate is staggering. And I am certain that every single person who attended the People's Inaugural, whether volunteer or media or hired photographer, came away changed and inspired.

I love hearing from the Staffords since then. Jessica is a Facebook friend and I keep up with the latest photos of her adorable sons. And I ended up shooting a fantastic wedding of one of her friends, Rashida Johnson, last year as well. So when Earl asked me to photograph the family reunion of the Stafford and Harris families, I frankly couldn't wait.

Now when I think family reunion my mind immediately jumps to mid-November and our annual Mendelsohn family get-togethers. There are five children in my family and our Thanksgivings top out around 19 or so people. Pretty big, right?

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