July 4, 2014, Washington, DC — In what ways do you consider yourself to be a Grateful American? That’s the question that author and publisher David Bruce Smith is investigating in his new Foundation through The Grateful American™ Series. With the goal of restoring enthusiasm for American history in kids and adults, Smith’s new website, which launched today, is a portal for parents to learn more about the nation’s Founding Fathers, presidential and historic homes, and other fascinating facts.
“Our mission is to make it fun to learn about American history,” says Smith, who borrowed the title for The Grateful American™ Series from his father, developer and philanthropist Robert H. Smith. “My father always referred to himself as a grateful American. He realized that the community and this country have been good to our family, and he wanted to give back. The Grateful American™ Foundation is my way of doing the same.”
A history buff since he was a child, Smith says he’s excited to share his interest with others.
“Educators know history is critical to students learning how to become better citizens by understanding how the country’s political and cultural systems work,” says Smith. “Students need not only recognize leaders like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, but really understand why they were important to the development of our country. That’s where the great stories are. And that’s how we plan to engage them—by telling the great stories of the real people who built America.”
From the veranda along the Potomac River of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, to James and Dolley Madison’s home, Montpelier, and dozens more—Smith’s Grateful American™ Series features interviews with the directors of the nation’s most popular historical sites. The website also showcases interviews with historians, authors, and educators whose gift is to bring history to life.
Scroll down to see how 13 Americans (in honor of the original 13 colonies), tell us that they are Grateful Americans. See their full responses in the July issue of Be Inkandescent magazine. The next goal is to get 76 responses—with the ultimate target of 1776 responses that we’ll turn into an eBook and share with the White House.
To participate: Send an email telling why you’re a Grateful American, along with your photo, to Hope Katz Gibbs at firstname.lastname@example.org. Gibbs is founder of InkandescentPR.com and executive director of The Grateful American™ Foundation.
What makes you grateful to be an American?
Hilary Blair, founder and CEO, ARTiculate Real & Clear
“I have always been grateful to be an American, but when I look at my international friends who made the choice and effort to immigrate here that I am reminded how truly fortunate I am. I am awed by the creative vision that our founders set in motion more than two centuries ago. When I talk with those friends, I am reminded how many freedoms I enjoy as an American and as the owner of ARTiculate Real & Clear: freedom of speech, the right to work where and how I choose, and the right to vote. Back in the late 1770s, these rights were but a dream — especially for a woman. Today, they are my reality, and I don’t take any of it for granted.”
Nadene Bradburn, president, Blackwell Associates, Inc.
“I am grateful to live in a nation where we are empowered to build our lives into what we choose, regardless of the circumstances into which we were born. Some of us, no doubt, have bigger barriers than others, but the potential is always there somewhere to live beyond other people’s expectation. There are people in this country of whom expectations are low but who become the first in their families to go to college. There are people who seize opportunities and take risks and people who work tirelessly every day to increase the opportunities of their children and their neighbors. Which leads me to a related object of my gratitude: That so many people are committed to the creation of safety nets and outreach and programs that remove barriers for those who are eager to build something. I’m grateful for the American sense of responsibility to our neighbors that comes from the pride of self-fulfillment, the ‘giving back.’ This is a nation of people who see in each other an unlimited capacity to do amazing things.”
“As we celebrate the freedom we enjoy as Americans on July 4, I am grateful for my career as a Certified Financial Planner Professional. It is abundant with opportunities for personal and professional growth. As an Asian-American, I know that my opportunities would be much different if I had been born in another country. In fact, I am not sure I would have been able to launch my own firm in 2013 if I weren’t living in America. I have long lived by the sage advice imparted by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius from his Meditations on Stoic philosophy: Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.”
“I am a grateful American because I have a sense of history. I acquired the beginnings of this invaluable spiritual gift very early. I realized my grandparents, David and Mary Fleming, could not read or write. They had been born in awful poverty in Ireland. They came here hoping for a better life, and instilled the same desire in their four children. My father was a war hero in World War I and afterward a successful local politician. He taught me one of the crucial things about being grateful—you give back. I saw him help hundreds of people find jobs in the Great Depression. He made sure they had decent food to eat on Thanksgiving and Christmas. He was a caring man. As I grew older, I realized this tradition of caring was an essential part of my American heritage. I will never forget the day I first read George Washington’s wonderful words, “To see this country happy is so much the wish of my soul, nothing else can compare to it this side of Elysium. This desire to widen the circle of happiness to include everyone has made America a great and enduring country. It has also made me deeply grateful for this heritage.”
“As a journalist, author, and publisher, I am most grateful for my First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech. Of course, the Bill of Rights was originally proposed as a measure to assuage anti-Federalist opposition to ratifying the Constitution, and the First Amendment applied only to laws enacted by the Congress. Many of its provisions are interpreted differently today—especially the Free Press Clause, which protects publication of information and opinions, and applies to a wide variety of media. I am also grateful for the many opportunities I enjoy as an entrepreneur here in America. Where else would a nice Jewish girl from Philadelphia have the chance to create a small media empire that helps small-business owners everywhere realize their dreams? Only in America!”
Kat Imhoff, president and CEO Montpelier Foundation
“Until now, no one ever asked me to write down thoughts of why I am a grateful for being an American.* … My first thought was to say thank you for the natural wonders I have seen in travelling and living from California to Maine, and places in between. But, there are so many beautiful and grand natural wonders elsewhere in the world that natural wonders do not set us apart; but we do stand apart in terms of our holding firm to the American idea of the illimitable freedom of the human mind, a Founding Fathers’ concept that pervades our public institutions and our laws. In America, I can practice, or not, my religion. As a woman I am keenly aware there are no religious proscriptions on where I can travel, what I can wear, and how I can act or speak. When Jefferson and Madison were successful in passing the first governmental act establishing religious freedom, Madison wrote to Jefferson: “I flatter myself [that we] have in this country extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making laws for the human mind.” Today in 2014, the fight to protect freedom for the human mind goes on—as it must go on, even in a democracy—and especially so in these times when we see so much human misery and chaos in lands where civil society first developed.”
“As an American, I am deeply grateful for our legal system. It enables ordinary citizens to change the world in extraordinary ways. African-American families like my own understand the historic legacy of discrimination all too well, but by challenging discriminatory laws, breaking segregation barriers in public education, and organizing activists on a grassroots level, African-Americans have been able to use the American justice system to allow more citizens to live with dignity. The American activist heritage is alive and well at President Lincoln’s Cottage, where the Students Opposing Slavery program empowers young people from across the world to continue Lincoln’s fight for freedom. Each summer, teenagers convene at the very site where Lincoln developed the Emancipation Proclamation and commit themselves to fighting human trafficking by raising awareness of this crisis in their own communities and joining the global fight. With our protections of free speech and national legacy of activism, it is fitting that the students unite here in the U.S., and I am grateful that our nation has been and continues to be dedicated to making the world a better, safer place for all.”
Erin Carlson Mast, executive director, President Lincoln’s Cottage
“I’m grateful that as an American I have the opportunity and the duty to be engaged civically, environmentally, and culturally. Every day I look out over a landscape that is a true oasis in the city. This is a place that has been home to thousands of people who served their country. This is a place where President Lincoln developed his Emancipation Proclamation and struggled to maintain the only constitutional democracy that existed in his time while living here. It is a place where thousands more come each year to gain understanding, inspiration, and resources because they too want to make our world a better place. To me, being a grateful American isn’t just about learning our history, it’s about understanding and acknowledging that what we do today is inextricably linked to our past. What we do today will be part of our shared history.”
Kathleen McCarthy senior vice president, InkandescentPR.com
“Every Thanksgiving, my parents rent a big house on the Florida panhandle, and my parents, siblings, and our families all spend a week at the beach together. Since the house we stay in is a rental, it’s both no one’s and everyone’s. We all come from other places to be together, and yet for a week, that place is home to all of us. That’s how I think of being an American, too. Except for Native Americans, the rest of us are all from somewhere else in either the recent or distant past, and lucky to be here together. When I was 24, I traveled to what was then the Soviet Union as a chaperone for a group of Washington, DC, high-school kids on a trip led by their history teacher. During the visit, a few of us met in secret with some ‘refuseniks’ (Russian Jews who were scientists and had been refused permission to leave Russia). One of these scientists asked if I would take a letter to his scientific counterpart in the United States. It was jarring to realize that he couldn’t do his work openly and had to rely on strangers to convey even the most banal communication. I remember encoding his letter into my trip journal and standing with my heart in my throat as I went through airport security before returning home. More than 30 years later, when I try to articulate what makes me grateful to be an American, what comes to mind is freedom to come and freedom to go. Freedom to be alone and freedom to congregate. Freedom to have my own thoughts and freedom to express them. Or not.
Barbara Mitchell, author, The Big Book of HR and The Essential HR Handbook
“I am grateful for the Americans who came before me to make this a country that I love! As we approach the 4th of July and celebrate, I remember my mother who came to America from Scotland as a child and became an American citizen. She was a proud American and sincerely appreciated all this country offered to her. She particularly loved to sing “God Bless America, Land that I love …” I am grateful for my father who served in the army in World War II, and my uncles who served in WWII and Korea. I love to travel to other countries and learn about other cultures but am always glad to be home in the USA. I am a proud and Grateful American!”
Tony Reichhardt, senior editor, Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine
As a child I lived overseas, and I remember what it feels like to be an American when most people around you are not—to feel the stirring of pride and superiority (for that’s the way it felt in the 1960s) when the “Star-Spangled Banner” was played. I now think of that kind of patriotism as childish, and mere tribalism: My group is better than yours. American exceptionalism is a delusion, and seems particularly silly in a time of rapid globalization. Still … the American Constitution, with its protection of basic freedoms of speech, the press, and religion (including the right to have no religion, or to make up your own) is one of civilization’s greatest achievements, and I’m grateful to live under those protections. History shows that those freedoms were—and still are—routinely violated, ignored, or subject to widely different interpretations. Southerners in the Civil War fought for “freedom,” including the freedom to enslave other people. Some see the influence of money on our political system as “free speech,” while others see it as a tool by which the rich hold power over the rest. The debate goes on. It’s possible that most people don’t even want to be “free,” if it means being different from everyone else. But I’m grateful that in America, freedom is still an ideal, if not always a reality.
Alec Rosenberg, partner, Arent Fox law firm, Washington, DC
“For me, being a grateful American involves stopping to reflect on the truly exceptional characteristics of our society that most of us take for granted as we go about our daily lives. The list is enormous, but consider a few examples. If you disagree with something our government has done, you can stand directly in front of the White House or on Capitol Hill and make your position heard loud, clear, and even obnoxiously, and you can publish your views to the world without censorship. Artists in the U.S. can express themselves however they want, even if virtually everyone else finds the message or expression offensive. Even after the closest, most hard-fought elections, we have peaceful transfers of power. As a people, our creative energies, and our ability to transform and create entirely new industries, are unparalleled. And, in each generation, many of those who have personally benefited most from our free markets and capitalism have also given back to society enormous portions of their wealth through philanthropy. We can worship according to our own faith, or we can choose not to worship at all. These are just some of the threads that form the basic fabric of our society, and the remarkable thing is that they are so deeply established that we rarely even think about them. I try to do that from time to time—for example, on the Fourth of July, when many others are likewise thinking about them—and I try to discuss with my young children why these societal hallmarks are special and worthy of admiration. The fact that our collective ethos is so ingrained is remarkable and wonderful, but we should never let ourselves forget that it can easily erode. Even as we disagree vehemently about politics, religion, and myriad other things—disagreement being perhaps the most ‘American’ of all of our traits—we should pause from time to time to celebrate the things on which we agree.”
Angela Sontheimer, managing director, Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg
“I am grateful for my foremothers. Not only my biological mom and grandmothers, whom I’m also grateful for—but for all the women, well-known and unknown, who have worked to make today’s society one where women like myself are equal players to any man. So many women spring to mind, including pioneers such as Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Jane Adams, Amelia Earhart, Betty Friedan, Maya Angelou, Sally Ride—and all the others who broke down barriers and helped to create a country where as women can do or be anything we choose. Of course, there is still much work to be done. But as the mother of two strong, smart and independent young women (now 15 and 18), I am grateful for the all who have paved the way and demonstrated how we can all work toward a society of freedom and equality.”