Damon Lee, a 1987 Absegami High School graduate, only saw his father cry twice.
The first time happened when his father, the Rev. Isreal Lee, was in the hospital in 2008. The Democratic presidential primary was two days away, but his father was told he couldn't leave the hospital for at least five days, so he couldn't vote for candidate Barack Obama. The second time occurred when his father learned he had inoperable pancreatic cancer and had only a short time to live.
Two and a half years later, Damon Lee, 42, sat in front of Obama, now president of the United States, and interviewed him for a video project.
"I honestly feel that Obama spot, because of my father, is in such a personal and emotional place. I still haven't fully digested the magnitude of it because it would be too difficult for me. That's how huge it is for me," said Lee, a movie producer.
Lee was already working with the Department of Education to film a series of videos for the "Teach Campaign," which tries to attract young white, black, Latino and Asian men and women to enter the field of education and become teachers. With his Hollywood connections - he's produced several Hollywood projects and recently won an NAACP Image Award - Lee already filmed spots with Oprah Winfrey, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus and TV and movie producer and director J. J. Abrams.
The Department of Education liked Lee's work and made arrangements for him to interview Obama.
"It was a very heavy moment for a lot of reasons. I was pretty numb throughout it. Thank God, the night before I practiced the lines that I would say to him. I don't even remember saying, 'Hello, Mr. President. My name is Damon Lee,'" said Lee, who discovered he did say those words when the video footage was sent back to him.
In December, Lee interviewed Obama for 15 minutes in the White House. Obama talked about his favorite teacher, what makes a good teacher, and called on people to become teachers, Lee said.
Lee, who grew up in the Smithville section of Galloway Township, not only met the President, but he touched him.
"In the middle of the interview, (I noticed) he had glitter in his eyebrow. I kept telling the guys, 'Can you see the glitter on his eyebrows?' They said, 'No, no, no, it's fine.' This is the President of the United States. This is going to be the only footage that I get. I don't want this glitter there," Lee said. "Finally, I just leaned forward and said, 'Mr. President, do you mind if I touch you? There is some glitter in your eyebrow.' He was like, 'No, I'm secure in my manhood.'"
Lee took his finger, rubbed it across the President's eyebrow, but he didn't see the glitter come out. When he sat down finally, he saw it again.
"I realized it's one thing to do it one time. The first time, you are being a very thorough interviewer-filmmaker. The second time, you are a weirdo. I was like, 'Nah, I'm not going to ask him again.'"
One of Lee's Obama videos aired last week on MSNBC. Lee's video featuring Obama's call to action for Latinos and African-Americans to become teachers will air Thursday on BET. His other videos can be seen at Teach.gov.
The Obama interview was unexpected, but Lee, producer of the movie "Undercover Brother" and executive producer of the film "Obsessed," walked into the NAACP Image Awards earlier this month thinking he had a good chance of winning in the outstanding television movie, mini-series or dramatic special category for "Sins of the Mother," which aired on Lifetime Movie Network.
"I said it's going to come down between us and 'Luther' (a BBC mini-series starring Idris Elba), and I think we can win this because of the power of African-American women in terms of their desire to have more series about themselves," said Lee, a Santa Monica, Calif., resident.
"Sins of the Mother" won.
Lee accepted his NAACP Image Award on stage with Carleen Brice, who wrote the novel "Orange Mint and Honey," which the TV movie was based on, and Elizabeth Hunter, who adapted "Sins of the Mother" for television. Lee also accepted an award on behalf of singer and actress Jill Scott for outstanding actress in a television movie, mini-series or dramatic special, also for "Sins of the Mother."
Contact Vincent Jackson: