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Authentic Patriotism: Restoring America's Founding Ideals Through Selfless Action

Authentic Patriotism: Restoring America's Founding Ideals Through Selfless Action

by Stephen P. Kiernan

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A provocative, inspiring account of our neglected American ideals and the people who are living them today--and restoring our nation's dream

Patriotism has become a loaded word: one that is wielded against people with whom we might disagree, or whose cultural origins don't match our own.

But our founding


A provocative, inspiring account of our neglected American ideals and the people who are living them today--and restoring our nation's dream

Patriotism has become a loaded word: one that is wielded against people with whom we might disagree, or whose cultural origins don't match our own.

But our founding fathers--Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and others--saw patriotism as a dynamic force: an act of service, in an evolving nation that defined its purpose by offering all people a better way of life.

In Authentic Patriotism, author and award-winning journalist Stephen P. Kiernan explores the original ideals that have been lost in our current climate, where war and economic turmoil have eroded our sense of civic obligation. Kiernan describes "a nation adrift," out of touch with its origins--and then introduces a range of inspiring people who have revived our national purpose by taking action:

- The out-of-work college graduate who led an economic and environmental renewal of her blighted home community.

- The retired executive who pioneered a revolutionary concept in health care for people without insurance.

- The minister who created a legendary choir, with the goal of uniting children of different races, genders, and classes in one voice.

- The family who donated their daughter's heart, so that another might live.

These and other "New Americans" are profiled in a book that offers hope, ideas, examples, and practical resources for readers who want to renew the American spirit.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Kiernan (Last Rights) urges Americans to take on the challenges facing our society in this heartfelt look at everyday heroes who are reshaping society. Patriotism, Kiernan argues, transcends empty flag waving and political posturing, and lies instead in our service to each other and our willingness to sacrifice for the sake of our country and its people. For the author, authentic patriotism is found in the actions of people who take on our most profound social problems—problems the free market ignores in the absence of a clear profit to be had, and that our government has grown too slow moving and detached to effectively address. For example, retired pharmaceutical researcher Jack McConnell saw thousands of people in his community struggling without adequate health care and launched a free clinic that has grown into the Volunteers in Medicine program with 78 clinics in 24 states. Attorney Barry Scheck could not bear the injustice of innocent people languishing in prisons and founded the Innocence Project; today, hundreds of innocent prisoners have been exonerated. With these and other examples, the author constructs a stirring argument against apathy and for engagement. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
An award-winning journalist offers a prescription for a nation adrift: citizen initiatives on behalf of the common good. For Kiernan (Last Rights: Rescuing the End of Life from the Medical System, 2006), patriotism is more than a set of beliefs or a matter of opinion-authentic patriotism is action, work that solves some of today's toughest problems. To recover America's greatness, he says, we must look neither to a cumbersome government nor an indifferent marketplace, but rather to the courage, determination and willingness to sacrifice-the traits that characterized the Founders-of ordinary citizens making a difference in their communities and beyond. In a friendly, readable text, the author introduces people like Jennifer Estess, who founded Project ALS, responsible for groundbreaking research in attacking Lou Gehrig's disease; Christopher Moore, founder of the Chicago Children's Choir, whose multiracial composition and high artistic standards serve as a model for cooperation and achievement; Dr. Jack McConnell, who established the Volunteers in Medicine clinic for the poor and underserved in wealthy Hilton Head, S.C.; Barry Scheck, whose well-known Innocence Project, through its pioneering use of science in the courtroom, has freed hundreds of wrongly convicted prisoners; Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, builder of parks and fierce opponent of unthinking environmental racism; and Tara Diane, whose decision to donate an organ made an impact that extended far beyond a single, benevolent deed. Though the author focuses on these six people, Kiernan looks at scores of other folks, some famous-environmental author Bill McKibben, singer Dolly Parton, tree-sitter JuliaButterfly-but most not, whose simple decisions to engage with their community has vastly improved the lives of others. The author identifies the signal elements of an act of authentic patriotism: It makes excellent economic sense; it can be duplicated elsewhere; it rewards the helper every bit as much as the helped; it sends out ripples of benign consequence in directions perhaps unforeseen. He concludes with a call for everyone to make a sacrifice, no matter how small, for a civic renewal worthy of our ideals. A good-hearted and hardheaded appeal.

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Authentic Patriotism

Restoring America's Founding Ideals Through Selfless Action

By Stephen P. Kiernan

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2010 Stephen P. Kiernan
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-2690-4


A Human Benefit

The only principles of public conduct that are worthy of a gentleman ... are to sacrifice estate, ease, health and applause, and even life, to the sacred calls of his country. These manly sentiments, in private life, make the good citizen; in public life, the patriot and the hero.

— James Otis Jr., 1725–83

The young doctor arrived at Harlem Hospital with as much idealism as expertise. After college, medical school, and a surgical residency in Washington, D.C., plus three more years of training at Memorial SloanKettering Cancer Center in New York City, Harold Freeman, M.D., had precise ambitions.

"I was going to cut cancer out of Harlem," he said. "I thought like a surgeon, you see. And I came there with enthusiasm. It was like I had a knife in my hand."

He had good reasons for his ambitions. The women of Harlem contracted breast cancer at rates similar to women in the rest of the city, but they died at double the rate. Freeman thought the problem could be solved by medicine, by surgeons like himself. The real cause, though, and the limited impact his skills could have, became plain after only a few patient examinations.

"Women would come in for the first visit, and you would ask them to disrobe. But then you couldn't see the breast. The breasts would be replaced by cancer, completely replaced. All you could see was an ulcerated, bleeding mass. I thought, how in the world can this happen in America?"

Dr. Freeman is now a nationally recognized authority on the links between cancer, poverty, and race. But in those days he was a newly minted surgeon, thirty-four years old. He had turned down opportunities at major medical centers and in private practice, because instead of enriching himself he wanted to help the African American community. He was accustomed to treating one patient at a time, a tactic that in Harlem too often proved futile. Breast cancer is a beatable disease, but success hinges on how early treatment begins. The cases he saw were all advanced. "Cancer would not yield to the knife," he said. "It was too late."

Over time Freeman pieced together the problem. Low-income women did not have health insurance, and thus no primary care doctors to give them regular examinations. They would show up at the emergency room with worries, complaints, or lumps. Freeman recalled, "They would be told, 'Your condition is not an emergency. Go to the Medicaid office on Thirty-fourth Street.'"

But these women could not afford transportation, nor spare the hours the trip would take. They might also be intimidated by the bureaucracy. So they would simply go without care until the cancer had indeed become an emergency — by which time it was far beyond the reach of medicine.

"These women were all poor," Dr. Freeman observed. "They were all black too. I wondered: How can we disentangle poverty and race from their medical condition? It is a complex question. They led me to my life's work."

The first step was to screen women for cancer earlier. Harlem Hospital clinics operated Monday through Friday, which meant some medical units were idle on weekends. "I adopted an area," Dr. Freeman said, "and set up a Saturday clinic without administrative approval." He chuckles at the memory. "I was very diplomatic about being rebellious."

The clinic was tiny: one nurse, one doctor, and a clerk, providing examinations for free. Optimism came easily. "Fairly soon, we were beginning to get some cases where the masses were small," Freeman said.

When hospital management found out about the clinic, they ordered that it be shut down. "But then we had a stroke of luck, because the administrator assigned to closing it got fired." Soon the city agency that oversees public hospitals decided to support the clinic, found a path through the Medicaid bureaucracy, and made the whole operation legal.

"We had now established several ways for women to be screened," Freeman recalls, "even mammography, and even if they couldn't pay. That was in 1979. The clinic has been open every Saturday from then till now."

Over the following decade the rate at which Harlem women died of breast cancer slowed, but the decline was nowhere near as dramatic as Freeman had expected. He applied a surgeon's logic: "If you recognize that there is a problem, you want to do something about it, and you want to complete the entire task. If I'm operating on a person with cancer of the right colon, for example, I make an incision, I observe the mass, I remove the mass, and I close the incision. The case is not over until the entire task is done. With the clinic, women were getting the test results, but that only opens the problem. It doesn't close it. These women need biopsies, they need treatment."

That would take more than a weekly clinic. It would require resources, money, a new attitude about caring for the poor. To win friends to his ideas, Freeman began writing. His Cancer in the Economically Disadvantaged (1989) remains a landmark in connecting disease to income and race. Among the new friends he won to his cause, the American Cancer Society brought him onto its board, later making him president. Freeman used that position to hold hearings on poverty and disease across the country.

"We wanted to hear the views of the poor people. In Saint Louis, Phoenix, northern New Jersey, Sacramento, they all said the same thing. 'We meet barriers when we attempt to access care.' For me, looking through the lens of Harlem, they enabled me to see that it was a national problem — for poor people, of any race, anywhere."

Freeman found four kinds of obstacles that kept poor women from receiving decent breast care. Financial barriers came first, from lack of health insurance to inability to pay for medicines or transportation. Communication was second, because patients often did not understand what doctors told them. More and more of them did not speak English. Fear came third, because in addition to their terrifying illness, poor people do not trust caregivers and are highly skeptical of large institutions. Last was complexity. Cancer care involves a Byzantine maze of oncologists, radiologists, surgeons, paperwork, referrals, moving around hospital clinics, and more. "In a fragmented system," Freeman said, "people get lost."

His idea was to create a new kind of caregiver, a nonmedical guide and advocate for the patient: a navigator. "They would be put on the case the moment the doctor said something must be done. They would listen, then ask the patient, 'Did you understand? Let me show you where you need to go now.' The navigator takes the burden from the patient."

Navigators were inexpensive compared to the rest of health care, initially costing about $40,000 a year. And they dramatically shortened the time from diagnosis to resolution of a case. Cancer mortality in Harlem fell so fast, other health institutions noticed. They began coming to observe the navigator model.

"We are about to have six people here from the Cleveland Clinic, a huge and prestigious hospital system." He smiles and shakes his head. "Yes, they are coming to Harlem — to learn from us."

The man and his idea became better known. When the head of Sloan-Kettering asked the designer Ralph Lauren if he would contribute to their research, Lauren replied that he wanted to help people directly. So the hospital referred him to Freeman.

"This was six years ago," the doctor recalled. "We met, and he asked me, 'What is your vision?' I told him. He thanked me. I thanked him. And two weeks later I received a check for five million dollars." Then the Livestrong Foundation, founded by bike racing legend and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, also made generous donations.

This funding made possible the creation of the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention in East Harlem — an organization developing new community-based models for cancer prevention and treatment. The money also financed research, which led to more publications, which meant that more hospitals heard about navigators.

As the concept spread, Freeman became famous in medical circles. The Institute of Medicine recognized him, as did the National Academy of Sciences. The Robin Hood Foundation — a group of hugely successful New Yorkers who underwrite programs proven most effective at reducing poverty-related problems — gave Freeman their Hero Award. He also won the Mary Woodard Lasker Public Service Award, from a foundation named for that prestigious medical research advocate. The citation read:

Dr. Freeman has shifted the paradigm for understanding disease in poor communities and among minority populations. Caring for the voiceless in our society, Dr. Freeman's humanitarian efforts have increased survival rates for thousands of people. Uncommon zeal in the pursuit of his goal, devotion to patients, and a diplomatic, sensitive approach to change characterize his advocacy. Dr. Freeman exemplifies the highest qualities of a public servant on behalf of the underserved.

Gradually Freeman became adept at speaking to large audiences. Picture him: a tall black man, wearing brown-framed glasses, his voice so soft it compels the entire room to hush, hands before him held fingertip to fingertip, somewhere between grasping a ball and folding in prayer. He developed powerful sound bites: "I believe poverty is a condition that should not be punishable by death."

He also began speaking about himself, his journey and motivations. The topic starts with his father, who died at forty-eight, when Freeman was thirteen, from the same cancer that Lance Armstrong survived. No wonder the young Harold chose the path that he did. His mother did not let the challenge of raising her sons alone diminish her ambitions for them. When a school counselor told Freeman and his classmates they would be foolish to set their sights on becoming doctors or lawyers, and should content themselves with a lesser station in life, "She went down there, she was very angry, she went to the school and confronted this person."

Moving backward in time, he tells about his great-granduncle, who went to Harvard and in 1869 became the nation's first black dentist. But if there is an ultimate model for Freeman, his dignity and determination, it is his great-great-grandfather, Walter. "He did not have a last name," Freeman said, "because he was a slave."

Walter's slave master was George Badger, a judge in Raleigh, North Carolina, who allowed Walter to hire himself out as a carpenter when his plantation work was finished. "He allowed Walter to keep half of his earnings, until he had saved three thousand dollars, at which point he bought his freedom. It was 1839. Then he continued to work four more years, until he had purchased the freedom of his wife, Eliza, and five children."

In 2006, Freeman went in search of his family's archives. Raleigh historians had no documents to guide him. But the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill maintained voluminous records, because Badger had later become a U.S. senator.

"They kept the materials behind locked, closed glass doors. But there was a folder with all of the records. George Badger had purchased Walter for three hundred and eighty-eight dollars; I saw the bill of sale: one human, Walter. The writing was beautiful. Really remarkable penmanship. A year after the purchase the slave master had married; the girl was from a prosperous family, and their wedding gift was fourteen slaves. I went through the names, and one of them was named Eliza. That was my great-great-grandmother."

The family moved to the Washington, D.C., area, where Robert, the future dentist, was born. When the next census came, the official asked Walter if he had a last name.

"'I am a free man,'" the doctor recounted Walter replying. He smiled slightly. "And that is how I came by my last name: Freeman."

Eventually enough time had passed since the birth of the navigator concept for Freeman to conduct research on its impact. "First we studied a twenty-two-year period ending in 1986. So this was before we had intervened. In that time, six hundred and six patients were treated for breast cancer at Harlem Hospital. They were one hundred percent black, and all poor. Half had later-stage cancer when they came in. Five years after diagnosis, thirty-nine percent of the six hundred and six were alive.

"Then we studied a six-year period ending in 2000. This group was also all minorities — seventy-five percent black and twenty-five percent Hispanic — and all poor. In those six years there were three hundred and twenty-five patients at Harlem Hospital with breast cancer. But by then we had assured that anyone could get a mammogram. And if there was a finding, everyone received navigation. This time the five-year survival rate was seventy percent.

"We had not changed the conditions, demographics, poverty, or percent uninsured. All we had changed were the screening and the navigator. And all those women continued to live."

Dr. Freeman's story bears telling because it reveals how the world may be continuously improved. It demonstrates how compassion can save lives. It shows how a person can decide all by himself to expand the range of life's possibilities. It reminds us that the arc of lives in America can run from the depths of slavery to the pinnacle of public service, because opportunity still exists here. It proves how ambition on behalf of others is an unstoppable force for change.

In America, cancer is the second leading cause of mortality, killing 550,000 people a year. In America, having the world's strongest economy has not been sufficient to prevent millions of people from remaining poor. Yet one man was willing — even eager — to take on both of these challenges at once. Two decades into the government's war on poverty, he found a battlefield where victories were scarce. Decades into government's and the free market's war on cancer, he found a critical area that had been entirely neglected. So here he was, a highly trained physician, granted — yet still only one individual, one determined person, seeking to make a difference. He would do it not for his own benefit, but because he saw a need and wanted to help.

"Each one of us is gifted," Freeman said. "I am gifted. So are you. We each need to find our gift, whatever it may be, and we have to develop it so we can create a human benefit from within ourselves. I believe this is the only way to achieve satisfaction and happiness in this life."

There is a name for a person with such courage, such commitment, such a sense of being part of something larger than the himself. There is a name for a person who sees a problem and declares that it cannot be allowed to persist in a country as great as ours. There is a name for a person who exercises independence as a means of working for the common good.

This is an authentic patriot.


No Longer the Fringe

The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths.

The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than monetary profit. ... These dark days will be worth all they cost if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.

If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize as we have never before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take, but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline, no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective.

We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and property to such discipline because it makes possible a leadership which aims at a larger good.

— Franklin Delano Roosevelt, March 4, 1933

One hundred years ago, the sun never set on the British Empire. The majestic enterprise of the United Kingdom, her colonies and businesses, literally spanned the globe. Yet today Great Britain, while an important actor on the international stage, is far from being the world's preeminent force in commerce, military might, or diplomacy. The supremacy of nations through time is never assured.

That lesson bears directly on the United States today. While this country has never held the vast colonies of imperial Britain, barely two decades ago America did possess international preeminence and unrivaled influence. The twentieth century could well be called "the American century," because it witnessed the emergence of this nation as a global leader: the strongest economy, the font of innovation, the mightiest armed forces, the source of prosperity, the defender of great ideals from liberty at home to victory abroad, the living manifestation of all the potential contained in a capitalist democracy. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, America stood alone as the world's sole superpower.


Excerpted from Authentic Patriotism by Stephen P. Kiernan. Copyright © 2010 Stephen P. Kiernan. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Stephen P. Kiernan is a writer and journalist for the Burlington Free Press. He is the author of The Curiosity, Last Rights and Authentic Patriotism. His numerous awards include the Gerald Loeb Award for Financial Journalism, the Associated Press Managing Editors' Freedom of Information Award, and the George Polk Award. He lives in Charlotte, Vermont.

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