Add Your Heading Text Here

Celebrating American Ideas

Introduction

The American Idea began with Thomas Jefferson’s words—“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  And its fulfillment rests with the ability of every American to experience all their potential in society.

This “idea” needs to be both celebrated and renewed.  It should be celebrated because of its unique place in world history.  In prior civilizations, all the power was held by monarchs and governments.  In America, power was granted to each citizen. 

And yet it needs to be renewed because Americans need to remember the privilege and duty that comes with citizenship.  And because not all citizens are afforded the opportunity to fulfill their potential.  To become a more perfect Union, we need to do our part and ensure that all our neighbors are equipped to do theirs.

Celebrating American Ideas

Featuring Dr. Bill Bennett, Former US Education Secretary

On March 25, 2010 Sagamore Institute hosted its first “Celebrating American Ideas” gala. Former Secretary of Education and renowned author William J. Bennett gave a rousing keynote address on the American Idea. His address emphasized the essential role of citizens and our responsibility to learn our nation’s history in order to define and defend democracy.

America: The Last Best Hope

In a democracy like the United States, knowledge of history is vital. Yet we face a great threat to our national identity today: most American students nearing voting age know startlingly little about the foundational democratic principles and ideals that comprise the history of this nation. Few others understand this challenge better than our featured speaker, Dr. William J. Bennett. Most recently, Dr. Bennett is known as a renowned author, but his experiences as U.S. Secretary of Education, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and college professor uniquely position him to share insights into the imperative for and response to restoring excellence in history education.

Recognizing that American students today know startlingly little about the innovative and foundational ideas that comprise the history of this nation, Dr. Bennett has published a gripping and memorable three-volume history of the United States entitled America: the Last Best Hope, which appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. Click here to learn more.

Watch Bennett's Remarks

Watch full event

Add Your Heading Text Here

The Celebrating American Ideas Award

About the Award

Sagamore is a think tank that moves ideas into action.  The Celebrating American Ideas Award honors those who have exemplified the best of American values and tackled some of the world’s biggest problems through innovative ideas.

Award Recipients

Purdue Cradle of Astronauts

Purdue University Space Program, 2022

The sixth Celebrating American Ideas award was presented to the Purdue Space Program.

Nearly one-third of all U.S. spaceflights have included a Purdue grad.  The most famous is Neil Armstrong who was the first person to set foot on the moon.  Before the term “astronaut” was commonly used, Armstrong joined Guss Grissom and other pioneers in Purdue’s engineering classrooms to prepare for America’s voyage to space.

Even earlier, Purdue graduate Cliff Turpin helped the Wright brothers redesign their engine and controls in 1908.  In return, the Wright brothers taught him to fly and he traveled the nation as part of the Wright Flight Exhibition Team.

Amelia Earhart served in Purdue’s Department of Aeronautics as an advisor to help women build careers in the world of flight.

Purdue’s space program continues to generate the next generation of aviation leaders while producing research into new frontiers in both space as well as applications to improve conditions on earth.

Jackson

The Irsay Family/Kicking the Stigma, 2021

The fifth Celebrating American Ideas award was presented to Kalen Jackson, the youngest daughter of the Irsay family who own the Indianapolis Colts.  The Irsays have prioritized mental health for their family philanthropy and they have used the Colts platform to operate a Kicking the Stigma initiative.

Kalen explained that they selected mental health for two reasons.  First, their family has struggled with addiction problems and they wanted to show others that it’s okay to not be okay.  Also, Kalen conducted deep research on the mental health landscape and realized that while there were many facets of the problem worth addressing, almost of the problems were made worse by the stigma that prevented people from seeking care.

Between 2020 and 2023, Kicking the Stigma has allocated over $20 million in grants and other advocacy.  The campaign has also generated more than 26 million in digital impressions.  The initiative continues its work in behavioral health workforce development, comprehensive and integrated treatment, equitable access to treatment and resources, grassroots peer-to-peer support for youth and family programming and awareness and anti-sigma initiatives.

jaylon-smith-hero (2)

Jaylon Smith/MEI, 2020

The fourth Celebrating American Ideas award was presented to Jaylon Smith, NFL Pro Bowl player and founder of the Minority Entrepreneurship Institute (MEI).

Jaylon’s big idea was minority entrepreneurs would be the most effective at closing America’s wealth gap.  In America, white families have an average net worth of $170,000 and black families compared to $17,000 for black families.  This 10x gap cannot be solved by new legislation or philanthropy.  It has to be addressed in the mainstream economy.

Therefore, Jaylon founded MEI to make direct investments in black and brown-owned businesses an offer training to other minority entrepreneurs to enable them to build and grown businesses.

Thrive-Farmers-Coffee-58

Thrive Coffee, 2018

The third Celebrating American Ideas award was presented to Thrive Farmers.

Thrive founder Michael Jones was deeply burdened by the talented and hard working coffee farmers who lived in persistent poverty.  Remarkably, more than 70% of the coffee consumed globally is grown on farms 5 acres.  Yet, these farmers receive a very small fraction of the eventual coffee value and they are subject to manipulation and volatility in weather and markets.

Jones and the Thrive team made these farmers partners.  They pay the farmers 75% of the profits from green beans and 50% of the profits from premium beans.  By paying generously and on a consistent schedule, these farmers are able to avoid immigration to the States for supplementary revenue therefore caring for their families and building their communities sustainably.

In recognition of the Thrive quality and mission, Chik-fil-A has made Thrive Farmers their exclusive coffee supplier.

AMPATH

AMPATH Kenya, 2015

The second Celebrating American Ideas award was presented to AMPATH Kenya.

In 1999, more Africans died of AIDS than Africans who had died from all the wars on the African continent for all the previous years of its history combined.  Earlier in the decade, Indiana University formed a partnership with Moi University in Kenya to begin the fight against this global giant. 

In 2001, the model was renamed AMPATH (Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare) and its partners have served 24 million people in western Kenya.  In addition to HIV/AIDS care and control, AMPATH partners are developing an integrated health system using both primary and specialty care in a community-based approach.

AMPATH is also recognized as helping establish the blueprint that the United States and other nations have adopted for a global response that has now saved tens of millions of Africa lives.

Navajo Code Talkers Peter Macdonald (left) and Roy Hawthorne participated in a ceremony Nov. 10, 2010, at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. to pay tribute to veterans and to celebrate Native American Heritage Month. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Navajo Code Talkers, 2010

The inaugural Celebrating American Ideas award was presented to several surviving members of the Navajo Code Talkers.

In addition to the Navajo members’ inspiring bravery, the award recognized Phillip Johnston’s timely idea to use the ancient Navajo language as a secure communications code during World War II. This idea came at an important moment in history, when Japanese intelligence experts were breaking every code the U.S. forces devised.  Johnston, a World War I Veteran and son of a missionary, was raised on a Navajo reservation and spoke the native language fluently.  Johnston recognized the remarkable potential of the Navajo language to serve as an indecipherable code – it was an unwritten language of extreme complexity with no alphabet or symbols.

Answering Johnston’s call, a small band of Navajos became U.S. Marines. From their ancient language, these modest sheepherders and farmers devised the most successful code in U.S. military history, using it to transmit secret communications in the Pacific theater from 1942-1945. At Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor, declared, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”  Their heroic service played a pivotal role in saving countless lives and hastening the end of WWII.

“Miracles do not cluster. Hold on to the Constitution of the United States of America and the republic for which it stands. What has happened once in six thousand years may never happen again. Hold on to your Constitution, for if the American Constitution shall fail there will be anarchy throughout the world.”

-Daniel Webster

The American experiment stands apart from every other political project in history. What Abraham Lincoln called our “edifice of liberty and equal rights” is predicated on the faith of our founding fathers in human agency and equality, and in a transcendent order governed by the laws of nature and nature’s God. History moves not by chance but by human action; progress emerges not from labyrinthian bureaucracies but from community innovation.

Ours is a precious inheritance. But it is not guaranteed. Popular government can only endure in the presence of popular participation. It requires that we learn our freedoms so we can cherish them, and exercise them in a manner consistent with the order of nature. It also requires that we actively seek the flourishing of our neighbors and communities. In a word, it requires self-government.

These are the duties of citizenship, and this is the radical value proposition of American republicanism: a free people can govern itself.

Liberty Tracks

Want to become a better citizen? Renewing the American Idea is designed to help. Sagamore’s team has curated some of our richest civic resources. The three tracks below provide recommendations for reading, teaching, and exploring citizenship throughout American history.

Click the links below for resources on furthering the experiment in self-government.

Civic Education: The Bill Bennett Project

 Bill Bennett, author of the three volume set of the history of the United States entitled “America: The Last Best Hope,” which have been adopted for school use in the State of Indiana and the City of New York, asked “So when was the last time you caught your children staying up past bedtime reading their history textbook under covers with a flashlight?” It’s a good question. American History is a subject that has long suffered from lack of engaging and truthful curriculum as well as a lack of prioritization from Education policy makers and schools around the nation.

America: The Last Best Hope

In a democracy like the United States, knowledge of history is vital. Yet we face a great threat to our national identity today: most American students nearing voting age know startlingly little about the foundational democratic principles and ideals that comprise the history of this nation. Few others understand this challenge better than Dr. William J. Bennett. Bennett, former U.S. Education Secretary and chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities,  concern about the gap between the fascinating American story and the poor way that history is often taught in schools inspired him to lead the charge in creating engaging curriculum. His project, America: The Last Best Hope, breaks convention to “recapture the glory” and the “conviction about American greatness and purpose.” Widely renowned as one of America’s best storytellers, Dr. Bennett’s textbooks are written as an engaging and interesting narrative, focusing on stories about historical figures rather than an analytical study to help shape the next generation of informed citizens. Dr. Bennett enlisted the help of Sagamore Institute to get The Last Best Hope into Indiana classrooms.

Click here to learn more.

Bennett on the American Idea

On March 25, 2010 Sagamore Institute hosted its first “Celebrating American Ideas” gala. Former Secretary of Education and renowned author William J. Bennett gave a rousing keynote address on the American Idea. His address emphasized the essential role of citizens and our responsibility to learn our nation’s history in order to define and defend democracy.