- File: Jeb Wallace-brodeur
- David Patrick Adams
Can short, aspirational videos alter the course of U.S. history? David Patrick Adams of Northfield believes they can, which is why he is inviting his fellow Americans to describe, in 30 seconds or less, the America they want.
A daunting task? In the last few weeks, more than 100 people across the United States have risen to Adams' challenge, recording videos on smartphones and laptops and uploading them to a website that was launched in January. The campaign, called "The America I Want," was organized and funded through the Linley Foundation, an international philanthropic group that Adams cofounded in 2006 with his wife and business partner, Maria Lucia Ferreira.
Among notable people who have submitted videos, or committed to doing so, are Anthony Zinni, retired U.S. Marine Corps general and former commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command; Loretta Ross, the African American writer, scholar and activist; and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). Videos are posted on "The America I Want" YouTube channel.
Although Adams would like even more public figures to participate and help spread the word, he's eager to hear from all sorts of Americans.
"The America I want," said Jelinda Metelus of Boston, in her 30-second video, "is one that acknowledges its shortcomings as well as its long history of white supremacy ... [and that] the American dream is not accessible to everyone."
Michelle Kuret, of Sacramento, Calif., describes her vision of an America that "responds quickly to the loopholes in democracy that the Trump administration has exposed ... so that our democracy is not vulnerable to an authoritarian dictatorship."
As Adams explained in a recent interview and subsequent emails, some of the campaign's most enthusiastic participants thus far are people just like him — naturalized citizens who have chosen to make America their home and have lived here for decades.
They include Jan Celt of Portland, Ore., who grew up in postwar Europe, the child of stateless refugees.
"The America I'd like to see," Celt says in his video, "is one that welcomes refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers and sets an example for the world, offering equal opportunity for every person."
Actually, the idea for "The America I Want" was imported from Ferreira's native country, where she and Adams first saw O Brasil Que Eu Quero, which translates to "The Brazil That I Want." Launched in 2017 by the Brazilian television network Globo in the run-up to the country's 2018 presidential election, its objective was to inform the candidates about voters' priorities for their country.
Brazilians submitted myriad suggestions, Adams recalled, including calls for rooting out corruption, establishing a universal health care system and even reducing beer prices, suggested somewhat in jest. In all, the network received more than 50,000 videos, many of which it aired nightly in 30-second spots. Globo concluded its O Brasil Que Eu Quero campaign once the election was over.
But Adams aims to do more with "The America I Want" videos than compile a montage of inspirational sound bites. He plans to use them as springboards for group discussions that take on thorny social issues, such as racial inequality, gun control, police violence and the climate crisis. The guiding model for these discussions, Adams explained, is the Native American talking circle, which emphasizes listening without argument or judgment.
Each talking circle will have a host who invites other participants to the circle, including topic experts and those with opposing viewpoints, Adams said. Over time, the circle will grow as others are invited to the discussion. By necessity, the talking circles will take place online, at least at first, and will be recorded and edited down to 15 minutes or less for easier viewing.
Adams hopes that the process will help Americans reimagine their country's future by focusing on solutions rather than differing views.
"The point is not being right," he said. "The point is, rather, getting it right."
Adams has some expertise in reimagining and reinventing one's future — he has done so throughout his life. The 77-year-old was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the son of what he called "English empire types" who settled in South America in the mid-19th century. Adams grew up in Brazil until the age of 12, when his parents sent him back to Europe for his formal education. In 1967, at age 21, Adams immigrated to the United States, where he's now a naturalized citizen.
In the years since, Adams has had several successful careers — in higher education, international real estate, advertising, consulting, professional mentoring and philanthropy. He's a licensed pilot, an avid horseman, and a former skydiver and marathon runner.
Before launching "The America I Want" campaign, Adams and Ferreira had a home-based business in which they interviewed clients on camera and created biographical videos about them. The finished product, which they call a "portrait interview," often has the look and feel of a Ken Burns PBS documentary.
When the pandemic hit, Adams and Ferreira put that business on hold, because the interviews, which can last several hours to several days, usually are conducted in person in their small home studio in Northfield. For a time before the pandemic, Adams even interviewed people on international cruise ships.
He believes that his skills as an interviewer and storyteller will lend themselves well to "The America I Want" campaign. If there's a guiding metaphor for his lifelong process of self-reinvention, it's that of a suitcase that each of us carries around. Occasionally, he said, we all need to unpack our own suitcase and reevaluate its contents to decide whether the ideological "baggage" we lug around still defines us.
As U.S. politics over the last five years have revealed, and the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 highlighted, America remains deeply divided along cultural fault lines. And yet, many of our clashing worldviews are contingent upon the accidents of our birth — such as whether our parents are secular or religious, liberal or conservative.
Ultimately, Adams hopes that "The America I Want" campaign will help Americans reevaluate the ideological baggage we carry around and decide what to cast aside.
"We are in a perfect moment to bring about change," he said. Evoking a blacksmithing metaphor, Adams added, "I don't think we're going to find in our lifetimes another moment when the iron is so hot for striking."