The Scholar and the Sailor

A convicted felon and an academic come to change each others’ lives through a passion for sailing and the written word. Produced for the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Need

Since 1965, the National Endowment for the Humanities has supported thousands of scholarly projects like Dr. Bolster’s book. The National Endowment for the Arts approached Meridian Hill Pictures with a desire to express through video the difficult-to-quantify human impact of humanities scholarship. In tandem with the launch of a new website that put people first, the NEH sought to remind its stakeholders that humanities scholarship has the power to connect and inspire people of diverse backgrounds at the same time as it advances academic disciplines. The inspiring link between Gregory White and Jeffrey Bolster, from their shared childhood sailing aspirations to the relationship that formed over their letter exchange, formed the foundation for a unique and universal story that explored these themes.

The Story

Washington, DC native Greg White had always wanted to become a sailor, but after being arrested and sent to a maximum security prison for armed robbery, his dream never felt so far away. While serving his 22-year prison sentence, Gregory frequently turned to literature as a source of strength and inspiration. During one 18-month stint in solitary confinement, Gregory read a book that resonated deeply with his long-held childhood dream to become a sailor. The book, Blackjacks: A History of African-American Seamen in the Age of Sail, told a historical narrative of African Americans reclaiming their sense of freedom as merchant mariners on the high seas at the turn of the 19th century. White’s ensuing correspondence with the book’s author — Dr. Jeffrey Bolster, a maritime historian and professor at the University of New Hampshire — would prove to be a transformative experience for both men. Through Gregory and Dr. Bolster’s story, The Scholar & the Sailor reminds us of the power of scholarship, history, and the written word to leave a meaningful and lasting impact on individual lives.

The Team

  • Produced by Meridian Hill Pictures
  • Directors: Lance Kramer and Ellie Walton
  • Producer: Lance Kramer
  • Editor: Sara Fusco
  • Sound: Jen Quintana
  • Production Assistant: Ja'anai Delaney
  • Music: Sam McCormally
  • Executive Producer for NEH: Mark Katkov

The Client

National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent grant-making agency of the United States government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs.

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