The American Creed
In these divisive times, there are still truths Americans believe in.
In the PBS documentary “American Creed” Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Kennedy and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice along with a diverse group of people from across the nation explore these truths— freedom, equality, justice and humanity—and find common ground.
The film grew out of conversations between Rice and Kennedy. Questions such as: Who are the “we” in “We the People of the United States…?” or “What happens to the idea of a shared American creed when social mobility declines along with trust in American institutions?” are carefully and politely discussed, not debated. People explore American values and ideals with face-to-face conversations, not Facebook rants.
In anticipation of the film’s release, WSRE is hosting a free film screening with two members of the “American Creed” cast.
Tegan Griffith is a post 9/11 veteran. Her grandfather, her father and her brother all served in the military. After watching the 9/11 attacks, she joined the Marine Corps. This April will be 10 years since she was sent to Iraq working with a Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron.
When she left the Marines after four years, Griffith said she felt “angry and bitter and lost.”
“My transition to civilian life was definitely bumpy,” she said. “I packed up my car and drove home to Wittenberg, Wisconsin. I had painted a picture in my head of people rolling out the red carpet… but when I returned it was the same sleepy town.”
Griffith credits her dad and brother for helping her to find purpose after her military career. After her father gave her tickets to a women’s veteran conference, she was “reinvigorated,” she said. She joined the local chapter of the Women’s Marine Association where she met women who have served as far back as World War II. She went to school and became a leader in Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a non-partisan member advised advocacy organization focusing on issues facing veterans.
In 2015, Griffith and fellow IAVA members went to the White House to see President Obama sign the Clay Hunt Act into law to make sure veterans have access to timely and effective mental health care.
“It was the most rewarding experience of my life,” Griffith said.
For Griffith, the end of her military career didn’t mean she stopped serving her country.
She became an advocate for veterans. And in recent times as more people feel compelled and motivated to get up and make their opinions heard, she supports it.
“People have the right to peaceful assembly,” she said. “We can be decent without being violent. Just be nice to each other.”
Griffith hopes that sharing her story will help others to reach out in their community and re-engage, just as she did.
“Lately, everything has been tense, but you can still have a conversation with your neighbor about your identity or politics,” she said.
Terrence Davenport started to become active in his community when he moved back to his hometown of Dumas, Arkansas in 2010 after his mother was diagnosed with cancer and his grandmother was evicted from the sharecropper’s shack she had lived in most of her life.
He started to really look at the struggles of Dumas.
“One out of four children is food insecure, yet we are No. 15 in the nation for producing food,” Davenport said. “But the solution is not feeding. It’s helping people be equipped with skills. It’s really important to not just have helped the lives of children but adults, too.”
Davenport took his web design and development skills and became a social entrepreneur helping to coach low-income people and connect them to meaningful work. In the Dumas area, Davenport saw individuals who had not only been out of work but were out of hope.
“Some individuals were not used to working, they were chronically unemployed, felons getting out of prison… men strung out on drugs,” he said. “These were people who had given up on the job search. You don’t just put these people in a classroom.”
Davenport is currently working on a social program that helps the chronically unemployed not only find work, but help set realistic goals and follow individuals through the entire process.
The way Davenport sees it, America’s greatest asset is people not wealth.
“Money is not the American value, people are at the core of American values,” he said. “There needs to be more equality across the board. Our happiness should not be measured by how well we are doing, but by how well everyone is doing.”
“We should care about those less fortunate and how interactions, policies and habits affect everyone,” he added. “We should start there as a basis.”
Like Griffith, Davenport believes that engaging with your community is a step toward progress.
“We need to be a sharing economy,” he said. “We need to be better at sharing life together.”
How do we become a sharing economy? Start with the families that live right next door, Davenport said.
Griffith suggests volunteering.
“Get out a piece of paper and pencil and write down your skills and match it with an organization in your community,” she said.
As a way to continue the conversation, WSRE is taking submissions of digital short stories asking positive role models “What does it mean to you to be an American or live in America?” Chances are you’ll have an interesting answer like the rest of the “American Creed” cast.
While “American Creed” was filmed a couple of years ago before the marches, protests and awkward holiday dinners that followed the 2016 election, much of the themes and talking points are relevant.
Griffith said she believes the film is a good “conversation starter” and looks forward the dialogue it brings. Before coming to Pensacola, she’ll be at two screenings in her hometown and in March, she’ll be at SXSW in Austin, Texas talking about the film.
“It’s a way to see different groups of people asking questions,” she said. “The timeliness is amazing. It probably couldn’t be any more relevant.”
AMERICAN CREED SCREENING
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20
WHERE: WSRE Amos Studio, Pensacola State College, 1000 College Blvd.
DETAILS: Register for tickets at wsre.org/americancreed