By Becca Carlson
*This article originally appeared in print and online in The Corsair in March 2018.
WSRE hosted an advanced screening of the new PBS documentary “American Creed” on Tuesday, Feb. 25 in the Jean and Paul Amos Performance Studio. A community discussion moderated by Dr. Douglas Mock, a Pensacola State College instructor, followed the viewing with special guests Terrence Davenport and Tegan Griffith, both featured in the film.
The brainchild of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David M. Kennedy, the documentary utilizes true stories of Americans across the country to discuss immigration, economic opportunity in the U.S., civic engagement and asks the question: “What values connect us as Americans?”
In the film, Rice and other featured participants echo a common belief held by many for centuries–that you can come from humble backgrounds and with hard work can achieve success.
Student civic engagement
Earlier that day, Mock invited Davenport and Griffith to speak with his American National Government class along with WSRE Station Administrative Coordinator Kasey Jones.
Jones asked students: “What makes America so great?”
For Kelsea Jacobson, a student in Mock’s class pursuing an associate in history, the answer was clear.
“I’m a military brat—and I go to a church that’s a cultural melting pot. We have a lot of Brazilian families, Cuban and Portuguese. I’ve always grown up around different ethnicities, and I just love it,” Jacobson said.
“The amount of suppression that other countries have just for their beliefs or for wearing what they want to wear—it’s these things that we take for granted. I think that what makes America so great is that we don’t have the suppression that keeps us from moving towards whatever we’re trying to get to. We have the opportunity to make change.”
She believes that more students should attend community forums and break away from social media posts.
“We see these issues. It’s an accumulation of our local issues and our global issues—it becomes overwhelming,” she said. “My question was ‘How can I get involved—should I start something of my own?’ It was refreshing to bring it back down to the local level. This is how you can get connected to the resources that are around you.”
Davenport was chosen to be part of the film based on his efforts to bring communities together to work towards improving the lives of its citizens.
He began this journey by working with Samasource, a non-profit organization that helps outsource certain digital jobs to unemployed individuals nationally and globally.
Since then, he has formed the Davenport Research Group to quantify the needs of communities and then present the data to legislators to find solutions for regional issues.
“Part of the reason I started the research group is to get beyond the conversation,” Davenport said. “We need a plan in place so we can be clear about the direction– so that we can get the right people in office.”
He works with his community to not only bring new business opportunities to the area, but also prepare people to work those jobs.
“My work is about making sure people are employable,” he said. “We’re a society that runs off money. Unfortunately, there are places where there are more adult people than income opportunities for diverse reasons.”
His mission is to offer training and certifications to students still in school. Hands-on skill certifications such as plumbing, mechanical and electrical work are in high demand. Certifications will also include digital jobs like social media marketing, customer service and data entry.
“We should be able to empower folks to come out of high school licensed, bonded, insured—having done the training that allows them to move into their work market with experience. A lot of jobs won’t even hire you without experience.”
“Those are the kind of conversations that the Department of Education needs to be a part of because people need to be employable when we consider them to be adults. In our country, we consider an adult to be 18 years old, but we don’t
consider their education to be enough at that age of adulthood.”
“The parent of discrimination is greed. That’s the real issue that we need to solve- hate and envy,” he said. “It’s not just discrimination against race, it’s class discrimination. It discourages people. It makes it feel impossible sometimes to be successful.”
“Our communities need to be less divided. We’re the United States, but we’re not united communities.”
Service to the country starting with communities
Griffith, a veteran of the U.S. Marines, was chosen by producers due to her work with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a national non-profit organization.
It was her service in the Marine Corps that broadened her perspective of what it means to be American.
“Coming from a super rural town-upper Midwest–there wasn’t a lot of diversity. Everybody looked like me. I joined the Marine Corps and there are people all over the place that don’t look anything like me with all kinds of backgrounds. We’re all wearing the same uniforms. We’re there to do our job. It expanded my world serving in a branch that was so diverse.”
Griffith believes that students have the best chance of making real change by getting involved in local level politics.
“I think one of the other cast members of the film said it best–those that show up are the ones that have a say. A lot of times, what they have to say isn’t in your best interest.”
“If you really feel like you need to step in and make some kind of change or be involved in community conversations, look to your community, look where things are happening. Whether it’s your physical community or a group of people you’re involved with. For me, it’s the veteran community.”
For Griffith, the American Creed is about service to others.
“It doesn’t have to be a big service. You don’t have to raise a ton of money. It can be holding doors open for people or helping somebody that could use a hand. It’s taking care of the people that live in your community, your family and those around you. Just to be a decent human being to each other.”
Path to a perfect union
Mock, who also teaches International Relations at PSC, believes that America’s past does not define its future.
“I think America does pretty well,” he said. “We have a history of a lot of bad stuff from the Trail of Tears to slavery to Jim Crow laws, but we have worked on that stuff gradually. I think we have pretty consistently moved forward.”
So, how does Mock define the American Creed?
“I kind of define it by what it isn’t.” “I agree with what Condoleezza Rice said; it’s aspirational. We want a society where people can succeed, people are given fair opportunity, rewarded for their work and it doesn’t matter, as she put it, where they’re coming from, it matters where they’re going.”
“American Creed” aired nationwide on Feb. 27 and can be viewed at pbs.org/ program/american-creed.