KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
Helen Keller believed in having a "courageous dignity in the presence of fate." Baseball great Jackie Robinson believed he could "discover the truth of today, and perhaps find the greatness of tomorrow."
Those famous Americans were among the essayists on the popular 1950s radio program "This I Believe." Hosted by radio pioneer Edward R. Murrow, the show reached 39 million listeners daily.
In April, the program was revived by National Public Radio producers, who said they wanted to stir a national dialogue again and encourage Americans to develop sensitivity to different beliefs, whether theological or philosophical.
The timing was right, producers said, because they see a parallel between Americans in the 1950s, who faced the Cold War, and their counterparts in the 21st century, who fear global terrorism. In both eras, the patriotism of some Americans was questioned.
In fact, the 1950s essays have a remarkably contemporary feel, said producer and host Jay Allison.
"There's a quality of uncertainty about what it means to be an American. We're still expressing concern for our future and our children's future," he said.
Producer Dan Gediman said he hopes the program will help change what he called a "chilling effect on speaking your mind" that Americans have endured since Sept. 11, 2001. More than 3,000 submissions have already been received. Selected contributors will read three-minute essays on the air. Essays will appear on NPR's Web site.
Essayists' topics have ranged from "their belief in a traditional God to their kindness to the pizza dude, and everything in between," Allison said.
Producers also have solicited essays from people such as director Ron Howard; former Secretary of State Colin Powell; actor Robert Redford; journalist and feminist Gloria Steinem; jazz musician Dave Brubeck; and Dr. Andrew Weil, a pioneer in integrative medicine.
But there's also an ordinary American who talks about the impact jazz has had on her life.
Some essayists have said they won't even mind if they don't get airtime, because they've already found it gratifying to put into words what they believe and why, Gediman said. "Often, taking stock takes place in the context of a crisis. This is maybe a not-so-painful way to do it," Allison said.
XTo find out how to submit an essay and to hear and read past essays, visit www.npr.org/thisibelieve.