USA Network’s Characters Unite National Town Hall

Today, at the Newseum, in Washington, DC, USA Network and NBC News Special Correspondent Tom Brokaw held the first-ever Characters Unite National Town Hall, a ground-breaking, high-level discussion on America’s social injustices and cultural divides. Inspired by USA Network’s community affairs campaign – Characters Unite — the event brought together a panel of distinguished leaders who shared ideas on how to unite Americans in order to tackle some of the most difficult issues facing the nation, including the economy, health care reform, immigration, education and civil rights.


The Town Hall came on the heels of a newly released nationally representative opinion poll – “United or Divided” — conducted by Hart Research Associates (D) and Public Opinion Strategies (R) for USA Network. The poll shows a deeply divided America, with a majority believing that the country’s divisions and lack of unity are getting worse rather than better and many saying that leaders are not doing enough to address prejudice and intolerance.


Town Hall participants included:

  • Mike Allen, Chief White House Correspondent, Politico
  • The Honorable Xavier Becerra, Representative, California
  • The Honorable Cory Booker, Mayor, Newark, New Jersey
  • The Honorable Ahn “Joseph” Cao, Representative, Louisiana
  • The Honorable Max Cleland, Secretary, American Battle Monuments Commission
  • Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Professor of Sociology, Georgetown University
  • Wade Henderson, President and CEO, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
  • Jon Bon Jovi, Singer, Songwriter, Philanthropist
  • David Mixner, Writer and Civil Rights Activist
  • Kathleen Parker, Syndicated Columnist
  • Chancellor Michelle Rhee, DC Public Schools
  • Dr. Christine Sierra, Professor of Political Science, University of New Mexico

The Town Hall included discussion of the divisions that exist today in America.  DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee said, “In this day and age, we’re still allowing the color or the skin and the zip code of our children to determine their future. It is unconscionable in America today.”


Commenting on the state of gay rights in the country and the need for much progress, author and civil rights activist David Mixner said, “there is a great civil rights battle going on in America right now, with two sets of separate laws: one for you, and one for me.”


Several panelists discussed the political divide in the country. In highlighting whether his party was inclusive, Representative Cao (R-La) said “America is a collection of diverse people. I would like to see the Republican party become a collection of diverse people.”  Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker said that the media has a responsibility, saying “negativity and partisanship sell….things would change a lot if the media would have more civil dialogues.”


At the same time, there was much hope for the future.  Jon Bon Jovi said that his philosophy is that “unbridled optimism about the future is a unifying force.” And Professor Michael Eric Dyson suggested, “Let’s not become color blind, let’s be color conscious to accept our differences.”


Five high school students, who won a contest USA Network held in partnership with Charter and Comcast, got to attend the Town Hall and ask a question of the panel. Responding to one student’s question about the challenges that young people will face in inheriting this  troubled economy, Mayor Cory Booker responded, “The current state of the economy doesn’t offer a huge challenge to your generation, it offers the greatest opportunity to stand up and make a difference…don’t let the inability to do everything stop you from doing something.”


During the Town Hall, Brokaw previewed his new documentary, American Character Along Highway 50, produced by Peacock Productions, set to premiere on USA Network on Martin Luther King Day, January 18, 2010. The film follows Brokaw’s journey at a pivotal point in our country’s history as he travels across legendary U.S. Highway 50 discovering how Americans are fairing during these extraordinary times, immersing himself in the lives of ordinary and extraordinary people to reveal uniquely American stories of hardship,  survival and hope.


Actor Dulé Hill, co-star of USA Network’s “Psych,” also made a special guest appearance and presented the first-ever Characters Unite Award to California high school teacher, Brian Jeffrey, who co-founded a multiracial, nationwide student club called “Socially Together and Naturally Diverse” or STAND as a positive way to bring kids together to celebrate their diversity and confront racism, sexism and homophobia.  Jeffrey was nominated for the award by the National Education Association, one of the twenty Characters Unite NGO partners invited to submit nominations.


Through a partnership with Cisco Webex Solutions, the Characters Unite National Town Hall was webcast live for free. It also will be available at beginning Wednesday, December 3rd.

The Town Hall audience at the Newseum was comprised of Obama Administration officials, key Congressional staff from both sides of the aisle, thought leaders from a wide range of organizations, and representatives from the Characters Unite campaign’s 20 non-governmental partners, which include the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the National Parent Teacher Association, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the National Council of La Raza, GLAAD, National Council of Women’s Organizations, American Federation of Teachers, Anti-Defamation League, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Asian American Justice Center, Children’s Defense Fund, General Board of Church & Society of The United Methodist Church, Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights First, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Association of Counties, National Congress of American Indians, National Education Association and Southern Poverty Law Center.


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