What does it mean to be American today? What holds us together in turbulent times?
In a new 60-minute documentary “American Creed,” premiering at 9 p.m. Feb. 27 on WTTW11, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David M. Kennedy come together from different backgrounds and points of view to attempt to answer those questions and investigate the idea of a unifying American creed.
How, ask Rice and Kennedy, have American ideals of freedom, fairness, equality and opportunity been shaped? How are they interpreted today? Rice and Kennedy’s inquiry frames the stories of nine unlikely citizen-activists striving to realize their own visions of America’s promise, according to a press release on the documentary.
“I hear more and more people say, ‘We’re coming apart, we’re not civil to one another, our institutions are falling apart.’ ” Rice said. “In times like this,” Kennedy added, “we need stories that remind us of the ideals that hold us together.”
In “American Creed,” these stories are told from the perspectives of activists who creatively bridge cultural, economic and/or political divides:
• In his hometown of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon brings new immigrants and long-time residents together after a controversial local election.
• In Oklahoma, Lindbergh Elementary School Principal Deidre Prevett, a dual citizen of Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the U.S., fights for the struggling children and transient families of many different ethnicities who pass through her hometown of East Tulsa.
• Acclaimed novelist Junot Diaz, from urban New Jersey, and Marine Sgt. Tegan Griffith, from rural Wisconsin, work in very different spheres to achieve “the dream of an America where we can be on each other’s side.”
• Based in Seattle, Eric Liu brings community organizers together across ideological divides.
• By “being open and listening,” Joan Blades and Mark Meckler, founders of MoveOn.org and the Tea Party Patriots, respectively, unexpectedly find common ground.
• In the Arkansas Delta, where mechanization threatens agricultural jobs, entrepreneurs Leila Janah and Terrence Davenport start an innovative technology company based on what they see as America’s promise of equal opportunity for all.
Adding depth and context as each story builds on the next, Rice and Kennedy lead a discussion of the question at the heart of this film – what does it mean to be American today? – with a group of first-generation college students at Stanford University, where Rice teaches political science and Kennedy teaches history. These students find themselves on an uncertain pathway to full participation in American life.
“American Creed” will launch as a primetime special and will stream on WTTW.com, PBS.org and the PBS app, kicking off a multi-year, multi-partner national public engagement campaign, the crux of which is conversation: heartfelt talk and respectful listening among people of different backgrounds, life experiences, education levels, professions, political ideologies and religious faiths, a press release states.
Directed, produced and written by Sam Ball, the feature-length film “American Creed” will stream for the duration of the campaign. A wider selection of short films, stories and reflections on America’s ideals and identity created by local PBS stations can be found at www.americancreed.org, with more to be added in the weeks, months and years following broadcast and launch. Audiences also can find information on local in-person community conversation events around the country.
Also included will be a variety of educator resources so students around the country can experience “American Creed” in the classroom.
Audiences are encouraged to share their own stories, ideas and reflections on the themes of the film on all social media platforms, using the hashtag #AmericanCreedPBS.