FDR Foundation Launches The Creative Citizenship Project

Today, with grim predictions for climate change appearing almost daily, the word “resilient” occurs again and again: utility infrastructure must upgraded to be storm “resilient;” sea barriers need to be raised to make them more “resilient” to flooding; new more “resilient” plant cultivars must be created to survive rising temperatures. While all these are laudable endeavors, they are at best reactive in nature, addressing the symptoms rather than the cause. The sad truth is that we can only go so far in strengthening the defenses of our physical world. In the end, the forces of nature will inevitably prevail, and humanity will have to adapt to whatever new reality is presented to us — or perish. We are not the masters of nature. We are, however, masters of ourselves, and it is here that true possibilities lie.

Seventy years ago, on the eve of WWII, FDR addressed the graduates of the University of Pennsylvania. It was an equally foreboding time, with war and despotism advancing across the world. Yet despite the coming darkness, FDR saw a way forward. “It is the function of education,” he reminded them, “the function of all of the great institutions of learning in the United States, to provide continuity for our national life —  to transmit to youth the best of our culture that has been tested in the fire of history. It is equally the obligation of education to train the minds and the talents of our youth; to improve, through creative citizenship, our American institutions in accord with the requirements of the future.” He then concluded with perhaps one of the most powerful lines of his long presidency: ” We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”

The FDR Foundation wishes to reawaken this call for “creative citizenship.” We want to renew the importance of transmitting to our youth “the best of our culture.” We hope to re-inspire the necessity of building the next generation for the future. And our help they will need, as the very skill sets required to confront the challenges ahead — creativity, innovation and imagination — are exactly those which we’ve allowed to lapse across wide swathes of our educational system.

In many places across the world, we train our device-deadened youth in much the same way as we did a half century ago, forcing them to learn a rote skill set to fill jobs in employment sectors that are rapidly disappearing under the combined threat of automation and climate change. We must do better, and we can, as we hold in our arsenal exactly tools we require: the arts and humanities. Study after study has proven that knowledge of history, fine arts, literature, music, and storytelling fosters a different way of looking at the world, a mode of vision that sees not only what is, but what could be.

And “what could be” is what we’ll need if we are to survive as a species. We’ll need visionary scientists who can imagine whole new sectors into existence; we’ll need inspiring politicians who can utilize arts and culture to unite diverse peoples; we’ll need creative business leaders who can harness new technologies in unforeseen ways. But most of all, we’ll need an educated, creative citizenry that can adapt to the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

This is true “resiliency.”

MDA Photo 2014In furtherance of these goals, we are dee-lighted to announce that Marcela Aviles Davison ’80 has come on board as our Director of Humanities Programming to help us launch the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Creative Citizenship Project. A first generation Mexican-American, Marcela Davison Avilés is an author and founder of The Chapultepec Group, an independent consulting and production company serving the arts and entertainment, non-profit, and selected consumer industry sectors. TCG clients include The Walt Disney Company, Pixar, Silicon Valley Ballet, FulmerWare LLP, Mariachi Sol de Mexico, the Mariachi Heritage Society and Aggrigator, a Silicon Valley start-up. She is also the co-founder of Camino Arts, an international Latino arts initiative. In addition to her work with Disney, her current portfolio includes a cross-border production of a new original opera on the life of Frida Kahlo. Marcela has worked with such well-known artists and organizations as Linda Ronstadt, Juan Gabriel, MarcoAntonio Solis, Aida Cuevas, Eugenia Leon, Carlos Santana, Los Lobos, Ozomatli, Lila Downs, Joan Baez, Paquita la del Barrio, Mariachi Vargas, Mariachi Cobre, Mariachi Sol de Mexico, Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlan, the San Francisco Symphony, the Smithsonian Institution and many others.

Marcela holds her B.A. in Fine Arts, cum laude, from Harvard College and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.

Don’t Let the Music Stop


Many of you know that I spent 6 years with PBS, and there December was one constant wail: “This programming is made possible by viewers like you! Please support us!” (Which isn’t actually true, and they shouldn’t really be saying that anymore, as the programming is paid entirely by corporations these days, but that’s a whole other story.)  Ironically, all these years later, I find myself saying the same thing, except this time for the Foundation, where conversely it is entirely true: You my dear friends make everything happen, from providing scholarships, to paying the insurance, to creating educational programming, to building the website. Why, you even keep the music playing and the piano tuned!

So, won’t you perhaps think about helping us before the end of the year? We really need your support, as our coffers are at historically low levels.  Just click the donate button below, or send a check to:

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

Thank you friends, and our best wishes for a happy, healthy new year!

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!

A Letter from Rwanda: Bio-Med and the Emerging World

Dear Foundation Friends,

I’m sorry I have not been able to reach out yet during my time in Rwanda, but my access to internet has been severely limited, especially now that I am working in a rural hospital in a small village. Luckily, I am in Kigali (the Rwandan capital) for the weekend and I found an internet café to check e-mail. I apologize that I won’t be able to send you many pictures until I get back to the United States because the internet connection is simply not strong enough to send such large e-mails.

Teresa Oszkinis

Teresa Oszkinis

I am having a wonderful time here. During the month of June, I was studying at the Integrated Polytechnic Regional Center (IPRC), the largest technical training school in Rwanda. In the mornings, we would have either French or Kinyarwanda lessons. French was the colonial language under Belgian rule, which is why it is spoken by many of the older people in Rwanda. Kinyarwanda is the local language spoken throughout Rwanda and has proven to be much more useful than French. After lunch, we would have lessons on medical instrumentation in the developing world, reviewing the equipment that we would likely see and learning basic repairs. This would be followed by laboratory, where we would build various devices from a simple flashlight to a variable rectifier in order to gain practice with electronics.

During this time, I was staying in a homestay right on campus. My host mom Christine was very sweet and made us feel like a part of the family. Christine is a professor of chemistry and environmental science on campus. We also lived with her daughter, two sisters, a cousin, and the domestic worker. Living in a homestay was an incredible opportunity to practice our Kinyarwanda language skills and learn about Rwandan culture. We also got to experience a typical Rwandan diet, which includes rice, potatoes, cooked plantains, beans, cassava leaves, avocado and corn. Rwanda also has amazing fruit, including pineapple, passion fruit, tree tomato, and mango.

After four weeks of intensive training, our larger group of sixteen was broken into pairs and sent to hospitals throughout the country. I am currently in Byumba, the capital of the Gicumbi district in the Northern Province. It is a small rural village, but it is absolutely beautiful. Rwanda is known as the country of 1,000 hills and nowhere is this more appropriate than Byumba.


The Rwandan Countryside


There are lush green terraced hills for as far as the eye can see. Foreigners are a very rare occurrence here so whenever my partner and I walk down the street, we tend to be the center of attention. People are very friendly and delighted to see us wherever we go. The children especially are adorable and run up to us to hug us and hold our hands.

The hospital in which I work is the Byumba District Hospital. My partner and I work with one other biomedical engineering technician and an electrical technician. They are both very nice and helpful with introducing us around the hospital. Despite its size and the number of people it serves, the hospital is very simple and does not have much sophisticated medical equipment.

A broken concentrator waiting for repair.

A broken concentrator waiting for repair.

Most of the equipment that we have been working on so far have been oxygen concentrators (the hospital cannot even afford oxygen cylinders or ventilators). Department heads from throughout the hospital keep giving us ancient equipment out of closets that have been broken for years and without which they have been forced to manage. It is an exciting feeling knowing that we can help to bring this equipment back into service. One of the most astonishing aspects of my work so far has been how difficult it is to acquire even simple consumables needed for repair, like replacement bulbs or batteries.

I have also taken advantage of my free time on the weekends to travel throughout Rwanda. I have visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Nyamata Memorial Church where 10,000 people were killed during the genocide, a unity and reconciliation village where genocide perpetrators and victims live side by side, Nyungwe rain forest in the Eastern Province, the holy pilgrimage site of Kibeho where there were apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the years before the genocide, and Gisenyi, a beautiful town on the shores of Lake Kivu. I even had the opportunity to attend a speech by the president of Rwanda!

I cannot believe how fast the time has flown. I am saddened to think that I only have three more weeks in this beautiful country. I hope that I can make the most of my time here and have a lasting impact on this hospital. I am so grateful to you and the entire FDR foundation for making this possible. I have made amazing memories that I will back on fondly for the rest of my life. I cannot thank you all enough!

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