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The Shadow Between Us: Obadiah Baker’s Artistic Journey for Social Change and an Education Doctorate

Obadiah Baker Drexel EdD student
Obadiah Baker, Northrop Grumman Manager, General Manufacturing II and The Joint Staff InformatioOperations Planner

June 3, 2024

2020 was a tumultuous year in our country’s history. The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed our way of life and racial unrest following the murders of George Floyd and other Black men and women led to protests and clashes with authorities from coast to coast. The events that year also affected students as they adjusted their studies to complete their coursework to a fully online environment. Obadiah Baker, a student in the EdD in Educational Leadership and Management program, was especially moved by the murder of Geroge Floyd, Baker, an army veteran who served as a civil affairs officer in Afghanistan prior to his studies at Drexel, has always used his past experiences to fuel his desire for social change and is inspired to find unique ways to call people to action, specifically through the arts.

When it comes to creating powerful art, Baker says “You have to do a lot of self-reflecting on what you've learned, your experiences, and of course culminate it into a topic.” He decided to combine his passion for anti-racism with his talent for filmmaking. “One way I wanted to express it was through film, and, of course, through music or the arts in general,” he said.. The Shadow Between Us (aired on PBS) is a documentary created by Baker about Nehemiah, a black dancer trapped in Cleveland during the pandemic who travels to Colorado to create a silhouette-based dance to address police brutality and help heal the nation following the death of George Floyd. Baker recounts the story of the moment he had the idea for the documentary, “There was this mural that I came across, and that mural simply said, ‘There's no one above, no one below, but we all have the same color shadow.” The idea of equality through our shadows inspired Baker, led him to contact Nehemiah, and thus, The Shadow Between Us was born.

Baker has a passion for expressing his topics through art because that has proven to be the best way to connect and engage both sides of the political conversation. He says, “we created this piece that impacted the entire, I mean, not even just the country. But the film went around the world and to many film festivals.” Through his documentary, Baker used silhouette dancing to capture the emotion of Floyd’s death. He said, “I was trying to replicate the exact impact that happened when that person took that phone and actually recorded George Floyd... I wanted to see if we could simulate that same impact in in a controlled environment using shadow dance.”

Baker’s documentary and studies in the EdD program led him to receive a Fulbright Award in 2022. The Fulbright Program is “a U.S. government-sponsored international academic exchange program that awards grants to students, scholars, teachers, artists, and professionals.” It is a very prestigious award that is only granted to an average of 2,200 students each year. The research grant sent Baker to Israel to continue his studies. Baker says, “if it wasn't for The Shadow Between Us, there would have been no Fulbright... if I didn't create that film, I would have not been a Fulbright scholar.”

Regarding what went into creating a film so powerful that it led to winning the Fulbright Award, Baker says “It goes back to, a particular African proverb... it takes a village to, you know, raise a child, in this case our baby was The Shadow Between Us.” He also thanks Drexel, “The quick feedback was something that I really appreciated by all my advisors, including the committee... the tough love too”. Baker is an online student, however with his dedication and support from those around him he achieved remarkable feats, “This particular degree was something I put my heart and soul in... And my online program took me to Israel... I mean, that’s crazy.”

Unfortunately for Baker, his studies were cut short when he found himself caught in the middle of a new world event. On October 7th, 2023, Hamas and other militant groups launched attacks in Israel which led to the war in Gaza. Baker, who happened to be on vacation in Thailand at the time of the attacks, was told by his colleagues to not come back to Israel. The attacks brought back memories of Baker’s time in Afghanistan as he processed what was happening and made arrangement to return to the U.S. It also ruined his dissertation plan. “My whole dissertation that I had planned went down the drain,” Baker said. “My new dissertation deals with reflecting on that lived experience. So, I took an auto ethnographic approach... I had to write a whole new dissertation.” Reflecting on the experience, Baker said he is very proud of the dissertation he recently defended and has a new outlook for the future. “You have to have patience, the dissertation I thought I was going to write wasn't the one in which I needed,” he said.

No matter how driven, accomplished, and successful you are, Baker expresses the importance of not doubting yourself, knowing that anyone can achieve their goals if they put their minds to it. He says, “just have this vision, this idea, and you can go out there and just completely impact the world. That one drop inside the water will not just make a ripple, it will build up into a wave.”