Giving Ventures Podcast: Celebrating America

America250 is the organization leading the planning and coordination of a national celebration for this remarkable birthday. Joseph C. Daniels, the new CEO and president of America250, joins host Peter Lipsett on the latest episode of Giving Ventures to talk about plans for the big birthday bash.

Living Up to Our Founding Documents

The semiquincentennial celebration is a chance for our nation to put political differences aside and celebrate our shared love for country and the freedom we enjoy, says Daniels, adding it’s also an opportunity to consider our past and ensure we’re living up to our founding documents.

The party is “a chance to reflect on where more progress needs to be made to ensure that the promises that are embodied in our foundational documents—the Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights—are applied to every single American,” he says.

“If there’s ever a time to be arm-in-arm with your fellow countrymen, the semiquincentennial is it. And this foundation is going to do everything possible at the national level, at the state level and at the local level to bring us all together.”

Made for This Moment

Daniels of all people knows what it takes to help unite a country, as he spent a decade leading the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City and, more recently, served as the president and CEO of the Medal of Honor Museum in Arlington, Texas.

The task of creating consensus on a memorial in the wake of national tragedy, however, was Herculean, says Daniels, as there were government and private business interests to consider, the opinion of everyday New York residents to consider, and, especially, the thoughts of the 100,000 family members of the 2,977 people that perished on 9/11.

“[W]hat I observed about what took us from a place of almost paralysis with all of the different opinion to a place of progress was essentially that, after 9/11, there was this real well-thought-out, heartfelt intention to listen.”

New York City administrators and non-profit leaders, in the wake of 9/11, conducted a “listening tour,” said Daniels, gathering peoples’ thoughts about what should be done with the 16 acre-footprint where the Twin Towers once stood.

Setting Expectations

The key to listening, however, is to set expectations up front and recognize that not everyone is going to agree on how to memorialize the site but to have a process in place so the end result is the culmination of feedback and not simply the thoughts of a handful of government bureaucrats.

“So, what Mike Bloomberg and myself and the team and our board was able to do—we were really clear about where the decisions were going to get made. The 9/11 board was made up of 50 individuals that represented every sector in the country at the very highest level,” he said.

The board, however, had other members with an extremely personal stake in events of 9/11—men and women who experienced first-hand the terror on that fateful day and men and women who lost family members, friends and coworkers on 9/11.

“[The board] included twelve 9/11 family members—families that came from the World Trade Center site, from Flight 93 and from the Pentagon,” says Daniels. “So, when we made a decision, we were able to say that it had gone through a process where every sector was represented…”

As Daniels and his team look down the road to 2026 and bringing a vision to a divided nation, he plans to draw on those experiences. As we continue in the podcast, he discusses that vision and the many plans America250 is drawing up to celebrate this important milestone for our nation.

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