PBS brings unique perspectives to American ideals and identity

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In a press release, PBS (Channel 7) announced an airing of the documentary film America Creed next week, as well as a multi-year, multi-partner national public engagement campaign.

What does it mean to be American? What holds us together in turbulent times? In American Creed, airing Tuesday, Feb. 27, 8 p.m., former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David M. Kennedy come together from different backgrounds and points of view to 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 spirited inquiry frames the stories of citizen-activists striving to realize their visions of America’s promise.

“I hear more and more people say, ‘we’re coming apart, we’re not civil to one another, our institutions are falling apart’,” says Rice. “In times like this,” adds Kennedy, “we need stories that remind us of the ideals that hold us together.”

The stories in American Creed are told from the points of view of unlikely activists who creatively bridge cultural, economic, and/or political divides. In his hometown of Hazleton, Pa., baseball 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,” the founders of the grassroots organizations MoveOn.org and the Tea Party Patriots unexpectedly find common ground. In the Arkansas Delta, where mechanization threatens agricultural jobs, entrepreneurs Leila Janah and Terrence Davenport start an innovative and relevant 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 moving 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; their commentary is insightful and affecting, in surprising ways.

American Creed will launch as a primetime PBS special and stream on PBS.org and the PBS app beginning February 28, 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. It is through these community conversations, made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and a robust array of partners that the film will realize its highest purpose: to engage Americans in reflection and dialogue about their part in the American story, and in acting to shape that story for the better.

The feature-length film will stream at PBS.org for the duration of this multi-year campaign. A more extensive selection of short films, stories, and reflections on America’s ideals and identity are at americancreed.org, along with listings of local in-person community conversation events around the country. 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.

Students around the country will experience American Creed in the classroom — as part of their history, civics, and social studies courses. Educator resources and other features, including a selection of timely and relevant stories, will be curated on americancreed.org in the weeks, months, and years following broadcast and launch.

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