By Steve Pemberton
Chief Diversity Officer, Walgreen Co.
Though we often associate the term American Dream with the founding fathers, it was not until 1931 that American writer and historian James Truslow Adams coined the term in his 1931 book, Epic of America. Adams wonderfully captured the sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence and John Winthrop’s 1630 sermon, “City Upon a Hill” when he said the American dream is:
“…that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement . . . it is a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
This is the American Dream that has brought so many to America’s shores over the years. It is this ideal I suspect that was in the hearts and minds of my grandfathers, Joseph Pemberton and Joseph Murphy, when they came to America, one from the West Indies and the other from Ireland. In the 1920s, both of them came seeking freedom and relief from the storms that had engulfed their native lands—the weight of imperialism that consumed the West Indies and the long shadow of famine and war that had surrounded Ireland.
Their transition to America would not be as smooth as they had anticipated; they would encounter discrimination, depression, and world war. Yet in their own way, they strove to help build the kind of America that had initially called them. They knew the true measure of the American dream is not whether it is achieved by the individual but whether it is possible for the next generation. They fought against discrimination, here and abroad, and they laid the foundation from which their families might one day grow and prosper. The road would not be easy—Pemberton and Murphy would endure considerable tragedy: the devastating loss of their wives and early deaths of children. Still they fought on, holding steady to their convictions of equality, access, and opportunity.
Regrettably, in their own lifetimes they never met. They never had the opportunity to share their remarkably similar immigrant histories, shared dreams, love of country, and common values. So now, it is left to me, their grandson, Stephen Joseph Pemberton, to take up the mantle they left behind—to fulfill their wish of a bright future from which future generations can build and prosper and to do my part to build that City Upon a Hill.