We got an assignment this week from JLF’s CEO to make some comments on social media about why we’re proud to be an American. It seemed like an easy task – talk about liberty, freedom, and opportunity in 140 characters.  Done. Next. 

 But I stopped to consider what I wanted to say, and my thoughts kept going to memories of my mother, a child of German immigrants growing up in the Depression, a member of the greatest generation. I remember celebrating Independence Day with fireworks displays, picnics, flags and buntings, “The Star Spangled Banner” and great pride in everything American.  I thought about opportunities and values she passed along to my brother and me. I thought about our children and the innovations and ingenuity that have shaped their lives. And I thought about grandchildren and what lies ahead for them. I thought about the freedom and opportunity that have shaped my family and those we love.

 As I thought about what my response to my work assignment would be, I reflected on all the things my mother taught me and wondered what the rest of my family thought. What had she taught them? Better yet: What had they learned themselves? How does our view of America differ from my mother’s? Through three generations, did we see America the same or different? So I asked family  – what makes them proud to be American? 

 My sister-in-law shared, “I am proud of ancestors. My grandfather was a coal miner with parents from Germany, who rose to become a corporate vp w Bethlehem Steel. Anyone can find the American dream. I was also deeply touched during our family trip to Normandy — the feeling of pride that overtakes you there is like no other. I wish that every American could go there. Then, you know me, I tear up every time I sing the star spangled banner — that is all pride.” Yep, me, too. 

 From a Korean War veteran, world traveler, and the best tour guide of National Parks and sharer of U.S. history stories:

“There are many things we as Americans can be proud of; but as I have traveled to other parts of this world, I very often think of the enormous positive changes we have made in history. Just imagine what things would be like if America hadn’t won WW2 and so many, many other things. The World would be entirely different without us and our initiatives and sacrifices!!!!!!”

 The engineers in our family cite innovation as the source of their pride, “I’m proud of the innovation that comes from America. Americans have been on the forefront of technology development since the industrial revolution. Many inventions have revolutionized the world.” 

And “As an engineer I deal with facts a lot. Reason. Things you cannot disagree with but can of course dislike. There are three countries in the top 20 lists of the human development index and population. United States. Germany. Japan. Germany and Japan were reconstructed less than a century ago under the guidance of the United States.”

 From someone who always makes me think; “I’m proud that Americans are standing up and speaking out about equality. I’m proud that people are starting to have uncomfortable conversations and challenging their own inner beliefs. I’m both saddened and proud to say that it’s a tiny step in the right direction. We have a long way to go!”

 Finding those bridges that bring us together.

“Music.  America brought the gifts of blues, jazz, country, blue-grass, hip hop, r & b, and rock n roll to the world. The music created in America has influenced, inspired, comforted, and brought people together all over the world for generations. You can go anywhere and hear the influences of American music. It might be an appropriate time to recognize the huge debt of gratitude we owe to the African-American community for their contributions to American music.  The reason virtually every genre of American Music originated in the South is because that is where the soul of African Americans were. They even brought us the banjo.”

 “American sports and the traditions around them.”

 From the youngest generation, the 13-year-old who, like most N.C. kids, has been homebound for the last three months: “the great movies we have here.” Our sweet, brave 10-year-old who has conquered physical challenges like a U.S. Olympian offers, “we have the smartest medical professionals.”  Our wise beyond his years 9-year-old observes, “Because some countries aren’t as fair as America.” The 8-year-old is a proud American because of “great movies, Captain America, and the Army.”

Sadness was mentioned more than once. Sadness over inequality. Sadness over the looting, riots, property damage. Sadness over the abandonment of rule of law and destruction of our history. Sadness over loss of respect for public officials. Sadness that in this hyper-political environment, conversations are not as free-flowing as they could be. And a sad concern of America’s future.

Sadness, but with a resolve that, at least in my family, there is a real pride in being an American. That there is work to do, that we can make it better. It stems from those who came before us, the ancestors who forged the way and set the stage for opportunity. It comes from American influence across the world to make it a better place. It’s based on innovation and transformational ideas. Freedom means equality for all. American culture bridges many gaps, and there is hope for tomorrow. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, my family won’t be together this Fourth of July, but we will celebrate America’s Independence, and we’ll keep talking. About what makes us proud to be Americans and lots of other things, too. What makes you proud to be an American? Ask your family. It makes for great conversation.

 Oh, and here’s my tweet:

I am a #ProudAmerican because of the freedoms built on the backs of those who came before us, the opportunities afforded us, an entrepreneurial spirit of innovation, equality for all under the law, a rich culture, a resolve to keep and protect it and a hope for the future.