Monday, July 22, 2013


Our president, Barack Obama, spoke to the press on July 19, 2013.
Click here to see a video and read the transcript of his remarks at this press conference.
He spoke about a topic on which many of us had been waiting, wanting, and expecting him to address--
the Trayvon Martin ruling.

He, along with most of us, is asking Who are we in America?

He, along with most us, is asking Where do we go from here?

And he, along with most of us,  is searching his heart and soul, his knowledge, authority and power, his expectations, affordances, and hindrances  to discover exactly who we are.

Educator and professional author Christopher Lehman, among others, engages in this soul-searching and wrestles with this topic in his recent blog post, On This Next Day.

In this nation-- in America-- we are created by words and documents.  Those historical and living words say who we are here in this country.  In my book, Deeper Writing: Quick Writes and Mentor Texts to Illuminate New Possibilities,  I address our founding documents and those living words that guide us in this way:

...documents outline our collective rights and rules, our national principles and  purposes, and our highest hopes and dreams.  Throughout our history as a nation, we have also repeatedly been defined and redefined by the words of strong and courageous men and women--words on paper preserved for posterity, and words spoken aloud to audiences--small and intimate or multitudes.
Words have led us to consider ourselves and how we interact with each other, both at home and abroad .... Words have sometimes spurred us to greatness, at other times shamed us into making sweeping changes, and often challenged the best part of our humanity to create a nation that continues to grow and create new possibilities.

In troubling times, in times of confusion and disappointment, like we face now-- in times when our nation is questioning itself-- we return to these documents for direction, solace and restoration.

We have faced many such times.
Who are we in these times?
Who are we in America?

As we engage in the soul searching and reflection that our president calls all of us to do, we may want to return to these documents, literally, to remind ourselves from whence we have come and to support us as we determine individually and collectively where we are going.

Most important founding and governing documents of our nation, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights, the Amendments to the Constitution and the Federalist Papers  can be found here, at Founding Fathers.Info.

Along with these essential documents, wise words of many of our fathers and mothers, our fellow citizens and others have also guided our nation and helped us to discover, remember, and become who we are.

Following September 11, 2001, Walter Dean Myers asked himself  the same question we are all asking now, and felt impelled to reread all of those  founding and governing documents I listed above--those that he felt " formed the core ideas of what America is about..."

Myers explored his findings in a mix  of poetry and quotes from people in our history --famous or not so famous-- along with quotes from our founding documents. The result was We Are America: A Tribute from the Heart. Those wanting more details and references will find that in the back matter, along with notes on the art created for this book by his son, Christopher Myers.
Who are we in America?

Sometimes being an American means speaking the truth.  Sometimes being an American means saying what our fellow Americans may not want to hear or recognize.

Who are we in America?
And what is our Truth.

We are Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.  We are Sojourner Truth, Susan B.Anthony, and Michelle Obama---all standing up, speaking out, telling us who we need to be.

Robert Shetterly, like Walter Dean Myers, also felt compelled to reflect upon and discover who we are as Americans.  He used art to explore those qualities, painting 50 portraits of Americans who for him represented the best part of Americans.  He selected those who words were Truth we all needed to hear.
The result was Americans Who Tell the Truth.

Who are the Americans who are today speaking Truth to power?

Who are we in America?

As President Obama has called us to reflect, to search our souls and to reflect on who we are, he ended his remarks with the following words:

And so we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues. And those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature, as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions. But we should also have confidence that kids these days, I think, have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did; and that along this long, difficult journey, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union. - See a video and the transcript of his complete remarks here.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Write an essay or letter responding to his remarks expressing your feelings, ideas--your Truth.

Write a letter to the jury agreeing, disagreeing, or questioning their ruling.

Read The Poetic States of America by John Laue (Rattle #38 Winter 2012) and my poem Who Are We In America?

Write your own  poem or essay which wrestling with the question Who are we in America?


  1. Thank you for this post. I read Christopher Lehman's post earlier and it echoed many of the things I had been feeling and thinking. Thanks for the links to so many resources. I'm going to check them out.

  2. Julie,
    These are resources that I am hoping folks will use to initiate conversations that we need to have. Please share if you write a response to this prompt. I would love to hear your thoughts.