Earl Stafford, CEO of Universal Systems & Technology (UNITECH), spearheaded what has now become the $1.6 million People’s Inaugural Project for the underserved to experience the historic inauguration Jan. 20. Not only does the project include free lodging to view the inaugural parade, two balls, and other events, but it will be hosted at the JW Marriott in Washington, D.C., a luxury hotel located on Pennsylvania Avenue, a little more than a stone’s throw away from the White House.
BlackEnterprise.com talked with Stafford about why he chose to begin the project, through his family’s Stafford Foundation, how this occasion calls for a focus on “the people,” and how you can become a participant, volunteer, or contributor.
BlackEnterprise.com: What led you to put together such an inaugural package, and why?
Earl Stafford: What we’re doing is reaching out to those who are not only financially disadvantaged, but our wounded veterans, battered women, and others. We want to have a cross section of Americans. We are also reaching out to the elderly and our disadvantaged young people. Being a Christian, I was inspired by the Lord to do something. As early as last March, the idea first came to me. My expectation was to do something small to get some of the homeless and disadvantaged there. We’d find their hotel suite and view the parade and do some good.
How much interest have you gotten from the American public since this has been publicized?
It’s been overwhelming. Almost every organization I deal with has gotten calls with people saying, ‘How can I contribute?’ … It shows that there are people out there who are hurting, and there are a lot of people out there of good will—people who want to contribute …We’ve gotten almost 2,000 responses already—from people who want to attend, who want to nominate [participants], as well as people who want to contribute and volunteer. The interest has become international as well.
What are some of the events part of the package that participants will be attending?
Monday, Jan. 19 we’re having the Inaugural People’s Prayer Breakfast. We are going to bring in people of all religions, races, cultural backgrounds… There will be people there who have millions in the bank and [some with] only pennies in their pockets. We’re going to bring this together so that we can pray for the people. We want to pray for our country, and we want to come together to pray for our President-elect Barack Obama.
What are the criteria to be chosen to participate or be invited to experience this?
We are reaching out to and collaborating with the National Urban League, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and other organizations. We are reaching out to the Department of Defense to identify some wounded veterans. We feel that those who can best select are those who are actually serving those people in the community. So we’re reaching out to hospitals and