In a discussion Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 am to 8:00 am – Leahy spoke to in-studio guest Joni Bryan who is the executive director of 917 Society. The 501-C3 non-profit organization has recently partnered with AmVets to handle distribution of Constitutions for all eighth-graders nationally in hopes to create a “rite of passage” for both the born and naturalized citizens of America.
Leahy: We’re here in the studio with my good friend Joni Bryant Executive Director of the 917 Society. They do good things. They give copies of the constitution to eighth-graders in Tennessee. You don’t do this out of your own pocket. You’ve got to get people to help give you money.
Bryan: Right. I work other jobs and this is my passion project. So yes. We are a 501-C3 non-profit, non-partisan educational organization.
Leahy: And so if people want to help you, there’s an event coming up
Leahy: And I’m going to be there by the way.
Leahy: It’s going to be a week from Tuesday on, wait for it…
Bryan: September 17th! (Laughter)
Leahy: September 17th at the Nashville City Club. And it only costs $25.00 to attend. And the money that you raise at this event is going to be used to print up…
Bryan: More constitutions. (Giggles)
Leahy: More constitutions and to pay for the distribution here in Tennessee.
Bryan: Yes. That takes a lot of effort, and money and time.
Leahy: It sure does. It’s a great thing. How do they sign up for this event?
Bryan: They can go to our website, 917society.org or .com and the ticket link is right there.
Leahy: Great. Just sign up. 25 bucks. Well worth it and you get to see Joni. More than just to see Joni. Also Lee Beaman and Dr. Ming Wang.
Bryan: Yes. Dr. Ming Wang is the President of our founder’s club organization and Lee Beaman is our Vice-President.
Leahy: Lee has stepped up and said he wants to help you raise money to go national right?
Bryan: He said he wanted to help in any way he could. And so we’re so excited to have Dr. Wang and Lee involved in our organization. Both amazing men with amazing stories.
Leahy: So tell us about the plan to go national. Which we by the way in our Constitution Bee we’re doing the same thing. It’s a one-two punch in Tennessee. You get them in the eighth grade and then you prepare them for the text supplementary text. The Star News Digital Media Guide to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Then we do the Constitution Bee here.
We’ve got one in April here in Tennessee. We’ve got our first out of state Constitution Bee in Michigan in December. So Michigan will be a good place for you to give your constitutions out to eighth-graders as well. But you go to this event and it costs $25.00 but when you’re there, there are additional ways you can give more money right?
Bryan: Yes. If anybody has money lying around and would like to donate we can put it to use. This year our goal, I just attended the national AmVets conference.
Leahy: AmVets. American Veterans…
Bryan: American Veterans Organization and they’re also a non-profit. They are helping us distribute the constitutions. And they want to help us nationwide.
And they have chapters in every state and almost every county. So they can be a wonderful distribution channel for us to get the constitutions out there. So our mission this year is to raise $1.5 million.
Bryan: Yes. That’s our goal this next year.
Leahy: You’re talking serious money here.
Bryan: Serious money. But that will reach 5 million kids.
Leahy: And that’s how many eighth-graders there are.
Bryan: Yes. In the nation.
Leahy: Well, they all need to read the constitution.
Leahy: Every eighth-grader in America needs to have a copy of the constitution.
Bryan: Exactly. And what we want to do is even more than that. We want to create a moment because when you hear Dr. Wang’s story about coming here with $50.00 from communist China. And he worked hard. Became a citizen. Took an oath of citizenship.
And I realized that I had never done that. I never took an oath. And so part of our project is the very last page of the constitutions we give out is our oath of citizenship. So we want to create a moment where our young people realize that they are a citizen of this great country.
Leahy: So this is what’s a little new and different. The oath of allegiance that you put in the back is sort of a symbolic commitment to be a citizen of the country where they are citizens and that are born in the United States. If you are born in the United States you are a citizen. This is similar to the naturalization oath that gets signed. I suppose it is sort of a moment of reaffirming that citizenship that is kind of emotionally compelling to these kids.
Bryan: Yes. And that’s what we’re trying to do. Is create that moment where our kids realize, “I’m a citizen. Wow! And here’s my guidebook.” We want to make this more than just handing out a constitution. We want to create a moment in our young peoples’ education. Kind of like a rite of passage. And imagine if every year, every eight-grader in our nation received their constitution how big of an impact we would have.
Leahy: Making it a rite of passage.
Leahy: That’s a very very significant thing to do and a smart idea I think. And so, you want to take it national. And Dr. Ming Wang and Lee Beaman are leading on the fundraising charge. Now when do you want to raise the 1.5 million by?
Bryan: We want to raise it by the summer of next year.
Leahy: By the summer of next year. And if you raise that $1.5 million you’ll be able to give all of the 5 million eighth-graders in the United States a copy of the Constitution.
Bryan: Yes. It will be available. And we’ll be working through AmVets to ship them to each state and then they’ll work with the distribution.
Leahy: And so this is how we’ll be a one-two punch. Not only here in Tennessee but nationally we are working on, and we’re about to announce it, we’re going to do a national Constitution Bee this July in Washington, D.C. We don’t have all the details. We’re not ready to officially announce it. (Whispers) But just between the two of us Joni. Again, the one-two punch. Eighth graders get the constitution from the 917 Society and then from The Tennessee Star they get the Guide to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and they get to participate in the Constitution Bee. We’re doing it in Tennessee and we want to go national.
Listen to the full hour:
– – –
Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 am to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Students Reading Constitutions Handed Out By 917 Society” by Joni Bryan.