"Journey to Greatness: Character Lessons from the Past" is an interactive lesson designed to help students discover how the challenges they might face today, such as fear, prejudice, poverty, not fitting in, or anger, can be overcome by learning how heroes from our past, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King, Jr., overcame similar challenges when they were young.
"Journey to Greatness" was inspired from a performance that was first presented in February 2009 at Lincoln Home National Historic Site as part of the Lincoln Bicentennial commemoration. Titled "Emancipation and the Dream of Freedom: From Slavery to the White House," the program featured "conversations" between actors portraying Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Martin Luther King, Jr., used to dramatize the interconnectedness between the 1860s Civil War, the 1960s Civil Rights struggles, and today. The program was presented again the following year in conjunction with the Springfield Branch of the NAACP's annual Lincoln-Douglass Banquet.
The "Journey to Greatness" organizers realized that the stories of these great people could inspire students — not because of the greatness these famous people achieved as adults, but because of the positive choices they made as children despite the many challenges they faced. The primary goal of this project is to help students discover how challenges can be overcome by demonstrating how role models from the past made difficult choices and personal sacrifices as children.
In 2011, Lincoln Home National Historic Site utilized a grant from the Fetzer Institute to hire Teleologic Learning Company to develop the "Journey to Greatness" project as a web-based interactive lesson with considerable in-kind time donated to the project as well. Springfield Public School teachers and others were also consulted.
In 2012, Lincoln Home National Historic Site and the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area were selected as one of 49 national parks participating in the 2012 America's Best Idea program sponsored by the National Park Foundation. The America's Best Idea grant funded further development and implementation of the "Journey to Greatness" program. The grant also provided resources to present the program to students at the Boys and Girls Club of Central Illinois headquarters for eight weeks. The students then created short videos where they reflected on their own lives after having gained inspiration from knowing that Lincoln, Douglass, Tubman, and King, all persevered to achieve greatness.
The final phase of the grant took place at Lincoln Home National Historic Site where the students toured the Lincoln Home and attend a program about Harriet Tubman. The visit culminated with the premier of the student's video on what they learned from the famous people and how they were inspired. See: www.youtube.com/watch?v=291jr4MkF7w
Also in 2012, through the partnership between the National Park Service and the National Alliance of Faith and Justice "PEN or PENCIL Writing a New History" initiative, "Journey to Greatness" was introduced in all PEN or PENCIL sites and in collaborative locations throughout the nation.
For more information on the National Alliance of Faith and Justice and the PEN or PENCIL program, see: www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzFmDjsoAjk and www.facebook.com/pages/Pen-or-Pencil-Movement/110044672385272
In May 2013, as part of the partnership, Lincoln Home National Historic Site participated in an awards ceremony honoring students from Forestall Elementary School in North Chicago, Illinois, a PEN or PENCIL school, for their participation in the "Journey to Greatness" program. The visit to Forestall Elementary was a follow up to a visit by the Forestall students to Lincoln Home National Historic Site.
The "Journey to Greatness" developers hope that children who participate in this program be inspired in their personal lives, in their appreciation of history, and have a desire to visit the National Parks and other historic sites and museums that are dedicated to the stories of these and other heroes.
In 2016, the "Journey to Greatness" program is being presented by Lincoln Home National Historic Site Park Rangers to elementary and middle school students who are part of the Boys and Girls Club of Central Illinois' "21st Century Community Learning Program." The 21st Century Program "seeks to provide academic and recreational enrichment activities to at-risk youth" and is located within Springfield Public schools as well as at the Boys and Girls Club of Central Illinois.
Teachers, youth mentors, and students can experience "Journey to Greatness" by downloading the "Journey to Greatness" app by search the app store under "NPS Journey to Greatness."
Resources for the development of "Journey to Greatness: Character Lessons from the Past" were provided by:
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition
Boys and Girls Club of Central Illinois
Last updated: September 3, 2021