Telling Our Story: 8th Annual FDR Memorial Lecture

Telling our storyOn March 12 1932, America was in crisis: banks closed, industries shut down, many millions thrown out of work. Desperate bands roamed the countryside in search of food and shelter. Worse still, in large sections of the country the weather had changed violently, covering once productive fields and towns with vast quantities of dust that choked out every living thing. People were frightened. It seemed that the very edifice of government was beginning to crumble. But one man was not afraid. That evening, in a calm and steady voice, he sat down to speak to the American people, directly: “I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States…,” he began. “I want to tell you what has been done in the last few days, why it was done, and what the next steps are going to be.”

With that simple start, Franklin Delano Roosevelt began to heal a wounded nation. He accomplished this in no small part through the use of positive narrative — ‘storytelling’ — the hallmark of successful presidents from Lincoln to Teddy Roosevelt. Throughout his 40-odd Fireside Chats, his over 900 press conferences and his countless speeches, again and again Roosevelt used stories to tap into humankind’s primeval need to understand issues not only in intellectual terms, but on an emotional level as well — a method that drew listeners into the narrative and made them active participants in the outcome of their own story. Color, creed or political stripe didn’t matter, insisted Roosevelt at every opportunity. We were all simply in this together. Later, with the arrival of war, FDR further honed this message. America was not simply fighting the Axis, he reminded us, Americans were fighting for freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear — throughout the world, for everyone.

Seventy years later, we in America have for the most part abandoned or corrupted the use of positive narrative in US domestic politics, choosing instead to bury opposition under a deluge of competing noise, slice political discourse with divisive accusations, and worst of all use demagoguery to cloud vital issues that affect us all.

Internationally, the situation is even more bleak. Lacking strong, shared convictions about what America is or represents, we’ve allowed others to hijack our national narrative, twisting and contorting it to their own purposes, often to the danger and detriment of the United States and its allies.

On Saturday, November 14th, The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation will bring together a unique confluence of diplomats, politicians, historians, social scientists and most important of all — professional story-tellers — to examine this problem. Beginning with a study of FDR’s use of narrative, we’ll explore the psychological power of story-telling on the human mind, and propose multi-disciplinary ways to restore and invigorate the narrative of the United States at home and abroad.

The conference will include 8th Annual Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Lecture at 4PM
“‘What is Our Story, Anyway?’ American Narratives in the 21st Century” by Ambassador David Huebner, with a reception to follow.

For tickets and more information, click HERE



Fall Fundraising Campaign

beyond tomorrow panel

The Beyond Tomorrow Saturday Conference Panel, with ethnobotanist Mark Ploitkin, opera singer Carla Dirlikov, New York Times columnist David Brooks, and Ambassador Bruce Oreck

I must admit I am still a bit tired!

After a five months of preparation, and a three-day organizing marathon for the Beyond Tomorrow Conference this past weekend, we are now set to gear up for our next event on the 14th of November: Telling Our Story: The Power of Positive Narrative in US Politics and International Relations, which is poised to be just as important and informative.

This is all pretty amazing when you think that when we started 7 years ago we had nothing more than an empty room and a dream. Now today we’ve restored one of the most remarkable historical spaces at Harvard, we continue to expand our efforts to preserve and protect our historical collections, we maintain an active and effective scholarship program inspired by FDR, and we’re energetically working to create programming for students and alums that has real potential for making positive societal change.

But to continue all these great efforts, we REALLY need your help. Despite this amazing expansion of our mission, our circumstances remain the same. We’re still a tiny 501(c)3 charity that receives no funding from Harvard. And while it’s true we benefit mightily from our association with the University, sometimes that hurts us too, as people simply presume that because we’re located at Harvard, we’re somehow beneficiaries of Harvard largess and that we’re rolling in cash.

As the old country song goes: “That just ain’t so.” Everything we do, comes from people like you.

Maintaining all these activities is incredibly expensive, and once again our coffers are low.

So: would you consider helping us? One new method we’d like to encourage is a sustaining membership via credit card. Simply pick an amount, 20, 50 100 dollars and after you click the donation button, you’ll see an option to “make this recurring.” This type of sustaining support helps us manage our cash flow, allowing us to know what funds we can expend for our numerous programs. It’s really simple to do, and takes exactly one minute. Just click the button below and you’re off!


Of course, if you prefer to send a check, our mailing address is

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation
Adams House, Harvard College
26 Plympton Street, Box 471
Cambridge, MA 02138

I’ll be in touch soon with more details about our upcoming programming, as well as some wonderful historical tales I’ve been waiting to share. Thanks as always!

Upcoming Events, Including the 7th Annual FDR Memorial Lecture

We still have places left for our Beyond Tomorrow Conference next weekend October 16th-18th, including a very small number of seats for the gala dinner Saturday evening featuring Alexander Bernstein and Carla Dirlikov in a special program: ‘Take Care Of This House’: Leonard Bernstein, Music and Hope.

On Saturday November 14th, we’ll be hosting a one-day conference Telling our Story: The Power of Positive Narrative in US Politics and International Relations, which will examine the current breakdown in domestic political discourse as well as the dysfunctionality of the American message abroad, and will seek to shape and hone the image of who we are and what we stand for as a nation in the 21st century. We’re delighted that the key note of this conference will include the 7th Annual FDR Memorial Lecture by Ambassador David Huebner: “‘What is Our Story, Anyway?’ Defining the Message and Meaning of America in the 21st Century.”  2015 is a reception year, which means the now famous The Roosevelt Raw Bar Returns! Ticket and more information can be found by clicking the image below.
Telling our story
And finally, join us Saturday, December 12th, as the FDR Suite celebrates the holiday season in style. There’ll be hot cider, caroling round the piano, and informal tours of the Suite 2-5. More on that as we get closer.

Beyond Tomorrow

Friends of the FDR Suite:

Adams House, the FDR Foundation, and the El Camino Project are pleased to present a ground-breaking three-day conference and concert experience: Beyond Tomorrow: Safeguarding Civilization Through Turbulent Times. I’ll let you read the full details HERE but, in short, this unique event will gather experts from the worlds of science, government, and the arts to answer civilization-shaking questions: what is to be our legacy? Can we proactively preserve cherished elements of our culture for the future, or is history really written only by the “winners,” if at all? And, if we can, which elements should we attempt to preserve, and how?

beyondtomorrow900Joining the group will be internationally known figures such as columnist David Brooks, ethnobotanist Mark Plotkin, opera star Carla Dirlikov, historian Michael McCormick, Ambassador Bruce Oreck, and archaeologist Laurie Rush, among many others. Each day will feature a variety lectures and workshops, along with special performances celebrating our cultural heritage. Saturday evening brings a rare return of Alexander Bernstein to Harvard, with a gala dinner and concert: ‘Take Care Of This House’: Leonard Bernstein, Music and Hope.

This will be a truly special gathering, which happens to coincide with the Head of the Charles Regatta, making it the perfect autumn weekend to be at Harvard. Tickets are available for the entire conference, or a la carte for individual days/events through the link above. If you are considering attending, I urge you to book your tickets now, as this is a special pre-announcement for FDR friends before the general notice next week, and places are quite limited.

A Letter from Paris: Biology and the Evolution of the Smart City

Kelvin Muriuki

Kelvin Muriuki

Dear Foundation Friends:

My stay in Paris has been amazing. For aside from the multitudinous cultural pleasures of visiting Paris (my first time) I’ve been introduced to a radically different way of thinking — encouraged to stretch the applications of biological knowledge to fields that previously seemed incompatible with biology — in this case, to the evolution of urban design.

In our Biology and the Evolution of the Smart City summer study program, we attend class daily, and every one of our lectures has two components: a biology section, and another in urban planning and design.

The biology component explores biological principles and their urban parallels. In particular, we’ve discussed is transport in living things, paying particular focus on transport of oxygen in human beings, birds, and fish. We explored the complex systems that helps these organisms effect this transport, the differences between these systems, the impact these differences have on their oxygen transport efficiency, and the inspiration we could draw from the design of these systems while addressing transport challenges in major cities especially congestion, efficiency, and crime.

The urban planning and design component discusses the different approaches urban planners have taken in designing and redesigning cities, explores the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches, and exposes us to the new ideas that are attempting to revolutionize urban planning especially ones inspired by biology.

From all this, I’ve learned one very interesting lesson: the solutions to the most intricate problems facing cities already exist — not in urban planning and design manuals, but in nature, as complex living things have faced and solved the same problems experienced by cities.

One particularly fun part of our program is that we get to design our own projects and pitch them to the mayor of Paris before we depart. My teammates and I have decided to focus on waste — especially the recycling component of waste management which remains a big problem in Paris. From our research we realized that of all the potentially recyclable waste in Paris, only 35% is actually recycled. This falls below the recommended recycling percentage of 50% proposed by the UN for all EU countries. Also, the 65% that’s not recycled is dumped in different disposal sites outside the city where it’s either incinerated creating pollution problems or left to form ugly landfills. We also realized that the recycling goal remained elusive largely because a recycling culture hadn’t been cultivated in many Parisians who considered recycling an extra chore/burden on their already overwhelming plate. Waste is largely seen as ugly, annoying, and cumbersome to handle thus many prefer to leave the waste management burden to the government and forget that waste ever existed.

Our project aims to reverse this perception by presenting waste as a tool for fostering artistic creativity, fostering intercultural collaboration, and having fun. To ensure maximum impact, we are targeting the young specifically those in middle school and high school since they will more readily take up new ideas and are more willing to experiment, hoping these then will be our ambassadors and spread these ideas to the elderly. We are working on a new school curriculum meant to reinvent sustainability education. In this curriculum, students will be encouraged to engage more with waste by researching on and writing about existing waste management infrastructure in their region. The goal is to make waste a subject that’s more present and readily discussed rather than one easily ignored.

The curriculum will emphasize fieldwork where students visit the different waste disposal sites and learn of existing waste management practices, constantly engage with their local government department dealing with waste to understand existing policies, and engage with local community members to understand how they deal with trash at the local level. Students will also be encouraged to create art from disposed/disposable material and share their art with students in other school. To enable us realize this goal, we are working on an online platform which will: help consolidate existing material on sustainability-art synergy, enable artists exploring this field to constantly upload/share their work with the students, and enable students share their artistic
recycling ideas and upload their waste-art projects for other students to see and derive
inspiration from.

The biological principle that inspired this project was the nitrogen cycle, where nitrogen undergoes different transformative processes at different stages, converting to a useful products at each stage that benefits the ecosystem. Similarly we wish to transform different waste products into useful byproducts and then share the knowledge with others so that they can also create useful products from stuff that seems useless. It’s all about thinking forward, and I’m tremendously thankful for this opportunity to explore new regions where the sciences and humanities interact.

Editor’s Note These experiences are made possible entirely through your generosity. Please give generously!