There have been many profound occasions throughout Barack Obama's historic presidency, but one of the most memorable moments in the past eight years took place in the wake of a horrific shooting at a historic African American church in Charleston, North Carolina, in 2015. The shooting dealt a devastating blow to the black communities in Charleston and beyond, and the perpetrator, a young white man named Dylann Roof, said he intended it to be the impetus for a "race war." Among the nine people who were murdered during Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that night included the church's pastor, Rev. Clementa Pickney.
Days later, Obama traveled to Charleston to attend Rev. Pickney's funeral. The mood was so somber it seemed to penetrate the airwaves directly into the screens of those watching live broadcasts of the event. When Obama stood at the podium to deliver the eulogy, his signature speaking style felt even more introspective than usual. Then, to the astonishment of viewers, Obama sang "Amazing Grace" as the crowd got on their feet and roared.
Many people have held up Obama's rendition of "Amazing Grace" at Rev. Pickney's funeral as a spiritually healing gesture of sorts. Speaking to reporters in London while hosting a special screening of the Netflix documentary, The White Helmets, actor George Clooney singled it out as one of the most gripping moments from Obama's presidency.
"The idea that the president of the U.S. can show up in South Carolina after nine people in a church had been shot and sing 'Amazing Grace' — and the way he sang 'Amazing Grace' — was one of the most moving things I've ever seen in my life," he said. "I couldn't imagine any other president in our history doing that. He moved us in a way, and those family members moved us by not retaliating and keeping the city calm. It was such a moving moment that I'll always remember."
Clooney had attended the Obamas' star-studded farewell party at the White House this past weekend with his wife, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who has plans to take ISIS to international court. The couple has been heavily involved in matters concerning the civil war in Syria; Clooney is currently developing a feature based on The White Helmets, a documentary exploring the work of first responders in Syria.
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Clooney has used his platform over the years to push for the rights of marginalized people across the world, including in places like Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Darfur.
"If you look on the internet, you think that the world is filled with hate. It all just seems terrible. And the reality is, the vast majority of human beings are kind and good. They want what's best for themselves and their children and their family, but they also want what's best for their neighbors, and for people that know them," he told journalists in London, in reference to the first responders featured in The White Helmets.
Though he may not be able to actively participate in crafting policies on foreign policy issues, Clooney seems more interested in getting regular people to care about the people affected. Speaking of the importance of finding the right story to tell, Clooney said, "You can't just find the subject and make the movie. Because if you get it wrong, you've really done it a terrible disservice."