To hide or not to hide. Republican or Democrat. Duke or unc.
The list of what divides people both in North Carolina and across the country seems to be getting longer — and more pungent — every day.
That’s why a famous filmmaker, country music star, and PR expert decided to put together a project that aims to bring people together, to become more civil towards each other, to consider past differences and respect shared beliefs.
Their magic bullet? Birthplace.
Or more specifically, letting people share memories and thoughts about their hometown — Mount Airy ranks first and center with two separate presentations on a national website dedicated to the issue.
“You have to find a way to talk to people without arguing with them,” said Dan McGinn, CEO of McGinn and Company and one of the creators of Honor Your Hometown. “We just fell into this trap: we’ll only talk to people we agree with and we don’t talk to anyone else, and that’s not good for this country.”
McGinn, documentary director Ken Burns and country music star Marty Stewart began brainstorming. They hoped to find ways to promote civility and a way to encourage people to return to talking to each other without grudge, regardless of political, religious, or social differences.
Then they came up with the idea of getting people to talk about the one thing McGinn said most people had fond memories of – their hometowns.
“If you talk to people about their hometown, they start smiling, they open up and want to tell you stories about their memories,” McGinn said. “I am dedicated to my country, I come from a small place in West Virginia called Nitro. I always believed that whatever success I had in my life, my country had a lot to do with it.”
The three decided to create a website, https://www.honoryourhometown.com/, where people could share video stories about their hometown, and help people connect with each other.
“We went to General Colin Powell, he liked it,” McGinn said. Powell has since died, and was President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Adviser, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush, and Secretary of State under President George W. Bush. “He made her first video.”
Next came Dolly Parton, along with both Burns and Stewart, and started the project.
There is Mount Airy, too – twice, for two separate reasons.
“If you’re going to talk about your hometown, you’ll get to Mount Airy sooner or later, right? It’s a perfect hometown,” said McGinn.
Thus, Mayor Ron Neiland was among the first group of mayors across the country invited to submit a video.
“I got an email, asking this organization, it’s a nonpartisan organization, it was people like Colin Powell, Ken Burns, Dolly Parton, just a bunch of patriotic celebrities who were saying ‘Hey, our country’s crazy conversation about each other isn’t what we are as Americans’ “.
Niland said the email was seeking input from him and other mayors about qualities of Mount Airy and their towns, qualities that we “celebrate as Americans. I thought that was a good idea.”
Niland’s video, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?
“I did it in front of the statue of Andy and Obie – this is the birthplace of Andy Griffith, we were also known as Mayberry,” he said. “I’m talking about the values of show, honesty, decency, fairness—those are really what unites us as Americans. That was the message basically, when said and done, it’s decency and kindness that will define us as Americans.”
Mount Airy gained a second entry to the site due to the friendship that Stuart had with Andy Griffith.
“Marty had worked with Andy Griffith…Marty attended a family memorial service for Andy Griffith. As a result, he said Stewart had asked the Surry Arts Council to give a presentation to Mount Airy as well.”
“This show, what it stands for… so powerful, so important to many Americans… we said Mount Airy should be represented,” Jane said.
Tanya Jones, Executive Director of the Syrian Council for the Arts, also provided a 3-1/2 minute video. Giving a brief glimpse into the city, along with a talk about the county’s blue lawn, old time, and country music history, Jones also referred to the original Mount Airy celebs, The Bunker Twins. She talked about Griffith, and based much of the show on his time growing up in his hometown, and his influence on Mount Airy. Her video, https://www.honoryourhometown.com/hometowntreasures/zbjk3ghsu6jbedp88gy33plxmnrwp9, was filmed in front of an Andy Griffith poster at Mount Airy Playhouse.
McGinn said the effort is an entirely voluntary effort and has been on fire in recent days. It has been featured on The Today Show, CBS Mornings, NBC Nightly News, USA Today, and a number of other national outlets.
He hopes the project will continue to gain interest—hundreds of towns and groups have submitted videos to view—and eventually become a national movement.
“There is no bureaucracy, no organization, we don’t ask for money, we don’t want anyone’s money… It is non-partisan. We just picked up the phone and started calling some people.”
“It looks like we have 1,500 days to honor everything. We have Cat Day, Taco Day, the name of your daycare, but not your birthday day. We thought that wasn’t right. We want to make City Honors and Annual National Celebration. We have a good chance of making this a patriotic movement.” .
Ultimately, he believes, if that happens, the city’s National Day might be the start of bringing people back together, and celebrating what they have in common rather than their differences.
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