Dream Weaving in North Plainfield, New Jersey: A Face of America Magic Moment

By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2010
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD
Photographs of World War II courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I’ve just closed my eyes again
Climbed aboard the dream weaver train
Driver take away my worries of today
And leave tomorrow behind

                                              Gary Wright

The Seeds of our face of America project were planted at the 20 yard line during a high school football game in North Plainfield, NJ.

It was a cold, October evening in a place Kitch and I had never been before.  It was our first visit to a place that would become our second home. It was an experience we never expected, and one we will never forget.

Watching the cheerleaders on the sidelines, the football players on the field and the students and their parents in the stands through the viewfinder of my camera, I saw an image that spoke to my head and my heart.  The message was simple, direct and oh, so beautiful. 

These youngsters and thousands like them all over the country will determine what America will become in the next 20 years.    It was a hopeful image, an inspirational image, a refreshing image of cooperation, teamwork, dreams and joy. It was a portrait of diversity at its very best.

I was watching the face of America tomorrow, today.

It was a compelling and powerful image. It made me want to look deeper into the heart and soul of this school, and the people who call it home. I have been doing just that for the past seven months, and it has been one of the best experiences of my life.

This week I returned to North Plainfield without my video camera.  For most of the morning, I was a teacher again working with the students in Mary Beth Windsor’s social studies class.  These students are bright, eager, genuine, and attentive.  There is an earnestness and a refreshing goodness about them. They are genuine. I like them.  I feel good around them.  I want to help them in any way I can.

On this Wednesday morning, we talked about the Battle of Kasserine Pass. I wanted them to know that the first major battle of World War II was a significant failure for the allies, 10,000 casualties, and more than 2,000 deaths.  It was a metaphor for the war and a metaphor for life.  

The loss caused General Dwight Eisenhower to reassess everything about his command structure.  It paved the way for the emergence of leaders like Omar Bradley and George Patton, and it provided a little known journalist from Indiana, Ernie Pyle, with the raw material he needed to develop the image that is most associated with the Army in this Great War, GI Joe.

In another attempt to discuss failure as an important part of the journey to success, I introduced the students to Greg Mortenson and the first chapter in his book, Three Cups of Tea.  This is a book about a war that is much different from the one my uncles fought. The first chapter is about failure, and yes, it enabled me to introduce two quotations that were spawned during World War II:

“Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill

“If a man does his best what else is there.” General George Patton.

Unfortunately, the generals commanding their troops at Kasserine in 1942 did not do their best.  We were not adequately prepared or equipped to take on Field Marshall Rommel and win.

Fortunately, we had a Supreme Allied Commander like General Eisenhower who applied Henry’s Ford’s famous quotation to learn the lessons of Kasserine and make sure they were not repeated:

“Failure is simply an opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”

The last part of the class was devoted to an exercise about hopes and dreams.  I like to do this whenever I have an opportunity to work with students.

For me, “Dream Weaving” is a simple and direct set of three questions that are presented in a nonthreatening way to students who are willing to participate and take ownership of their hopes and dreams.  It is designed to get students thinking about the thousands of tomorrows they will face after high school and the challenges and opportunities that will come with every step they take.  It is an attempt to concretize the words of Walt Disney:

“If you can dream it, you can do it.”

On this day, the “Dream Weaving” exercise was so successful I asked the students to record their thoughts on paper before they left the classroom.  Here are some of their responses:

“I dream of becoming a forensic psychiatrist. I want to inspire and help others.”

“I want to become a psychologist because I want to help others overcome their struggles.”

“I hope to have a big family with a caring and loving husband. I dream to become a registered nurse. I adore babies and hope to work in the maternity section.”  

“My dream is to successfully complete high school and to go to a good college…I want to become a physician’s assistant.”

“I dream of becoming a soccer player, and maybe one day in the future I can help others achieve their goals and also support the poor.  I have many fears, but I always keep my head up and trust God.”

“I dream to become a game designer.  I fear that I will not take it seriously. What I think I should do is adjust my attitude.”

“I dream of becoming a nurse. I worry about being accepted. I worry about having the money to pay for college.”

“My dream is to be a firefighter.  I would love to play college football if given the chance…I am going to stay healthy, safe and do well in school.”

“I hope to become an architect. I will succeed…if I try my hardest and not give up. I will not let anything come in my way.”

“I hope to become a doctor’s assistant…to graduate from high school…to achieve without failing. I will work hard… find help when I know I need it…always do my best and believe in myself.”

“My hope it to succeed in becoming an art therapist for children. I want to help them express the things that they can’t…I know that college and graduating will be a challenge for me, but it is a challenge I am willing to accept and beat to get towards my dream.”

“My dream is to become a fashion therapist. My fear is people not believing in me.”

“I would like to be a mechanical engineer.  I fear that I might not be able to afford college and not go into what I enjoy doing.”

“I dream of becoming a video game programmer. I worry about getting the money to go to college.”

 “I dream of becoming a social worker. I worry that it might get too hard to achieve what I need to in order to become a social worker.”

“My hopes and dreams are to open up my own car shop. I want to have a great family and provide my kids with everything they want.”

“I want to raise $100.00 to donate to the animal shelter.  I want to be a speed skater.  I want to be an ASL translator. I want to be a special Ed teacher. I want to go and find my family.”

“I want to become a social worker.  I fear that I won’t be a good mom…I won’t finish high school…I won’t go to college…I fear of being like the rest.”

Two students did not have a specific dream, but the words they used to describe their dreams touched my heart in a special way.

“I hope to make a difference and help people succeed in life.“

“I want to make all those who helped me proud and give back to them….I want to make the people who were there for me proud.”

If ever there was a blueprint of what America can be on its best days, this is it. The dreams of our children will determine what our country will be in the next generation.  If the dreams of these students come true, we are going to be just fine, thank you.

Gary Wright was right: “Dreams can get us through the night. Dreams can help us reach the morning light.”

To paraphrase a famous line from a famous teacher:

“There’s more to education than notes on a page. It’s all about dreaming, and the discipline, sacrifice and work to make dreams become realities.”

Thank You, Mary Beth Windsor.

Thank You, Skip Pulcrano.

Thank You, beautiful Faces of America, I hope that all your dreams come true.

Until the next time, Kitch and I hope that all your stories have happy endings.

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