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“Well ahead of the curve”—Pennsylvania takes leadership position in America 250 initiative

America250PA’s Executive Director, Cassandra Coleman, participated as a panelist in last week’s America 250 State and Territorial Officials Listening Session. Representing Pennsylvania (PA), Coleman shared the Commonwealth’s progress as plans take shape to celebrate America’s Semiquincentennial in 2026.


Cassandra Coleman, America250PA Executive Director

Established by Congress, The U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission encourages all Americans to preserve our nation’s past, celebrate the present, and unite for a better future by participating in the 250th anniversary of the United States. The Commission is responsible for arranging this milestone celebration in partnership with The America 250 Foundation.


The Commission held the virtual State and Territory Officials Listening Session on Sept. 23 in an effort to “promote each state and territory’s unique contributions to America, drive economic activity, and increase community engagement.”


Established by Congress, The U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission encourages all Americans to preserve our nation’s past, celebrate the present, and unite for a better future by participating in the 250th anniversary of the United States. The Commission is responsible for arranging this milestone celebration in partnership with The America 250 Foundation.


The Commission held the virtual State and Territory Officials Listening Session on Sept. 23 in an effort to “promote each state and territory’s unique contributions to America, drive economic activity, and increase community engagement.”


Frank Giordano, Executive Director of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission, opens the session by sharing the Commission’s views on the celebration—calling it “The largest and most inclusive celebration and commemoration in our nation’s history…” driven by a purposeful vision of “Inspiring the American spirit within all Americans and each American, grounded in our nation’s founding principles, for our continuing journey toward a more perfect union.”


Following the brief welcome and session agenda, Director of Program Coordination and Outreach for The America 250 Foundation, Brian Martin, presents some of the guidelines for the scope of America 250, including the inclusion of all American history; a geographical scope that encompasses the U.S. in its entirety—its “territories, Native American nations within its borders, and nations around the globe”; a commemorative period running from 2020 to 2027; and an invitation for “reflection on the past, present, and future of the united States through commemoration, celebration, and aspiration.”


Martin also reiterates the opportunity for each state and territory to focus on promoting its distinct identity, advancing economic interests and encouraging community engagement on an individual level.


Lastly, before moving to the panelist discussion, Martin explains the Commission’s anticipation of sharing customized America 250 branding with each state and territory and various systems for program development, administration and promotion, as well as resources organized by public and private sources. He concludes by encouraging states and territories to establish official America 250 PA commissions to ensure authority over state representation, funding and more.


Tony Rucci, President of The America 250 Foundation, kicks off the discussion with the distinguished panelists by stressing the importance of hearing input from all Americans as the initiative moves forward. He says discussions like this are critical, especially since states will be responsible for hosting many events and celebrations outside of what’s nationally funded.


Rucci introduces the 11 distinguished panelists—some of whom are already engaged in America 250, like Cassandra Coleman, Executive Director of America250PA.


Rucci addresses the first questions to Coleman: “What do you see as the single most significant opportunity that America 250 presents for Pennsylvania? What is the single most important thing the Commission can do to help you take full advantage of that opportunity?”


Cassandra’s response: “We as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania created America250PA back in 2018. We officially launched last year in 2019. We were created by a piece of legislation that was introduced in a bi-partisan manner that . . . got a lot of support from our state legislature and also our governor—Governor Tom Wolf. America250PA hopes to celebrate Pennsylvania’s history while innovating Pennsylvania’s future, and most importantly, while innovating our future, engaging our next generation of Pennsylvanians in doing that.


“We have four themes. We’re striving to make 2026 EPIC as we educate, preserve, innovate and celebrate every Pennsylvanian in all 67 counties. So we truly are appreciative of the partnership we have with America 250 so far, and we hope to be able to partner on programming and initiatives and projects as the years go on.


“One thing that every state . . . as they set up their commissions, is going to find to be maybe a little bit of a struggle . . . is funding. How are we going to partner with the national organization to have . . . these commissions be designated as the official America 250 organization? How do we get that word out to corporations and partners and organizations across our states to know that this is the state portion of the national celebration? We look to America 250 on the national side for guidance and support to do that, but again, we’re honored to be able to partner and to be on this call today with colleagues from across the country while we’re all looking to really celebrate in 2026.”


Rucci points out that Cassandra and Pennsylvania have been “well ahead of the curve nationally and have really taken a leadership position in beginning to define what their state commission is going to be doing.”


Over the course of the meeting, other panelists from around the U.S. took turns sharing their thoughts about the Commission and the celebration from the perspective of their own states.

  • Patrick Moore of New Mexico explains that the state has a unique cultural background with citizens of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. He believes that culture should be an important point of discussion, and that all people should feel connected to the commemoration regardless of ancestry.

  • Devin Lander of New York discusses the challenges of a decentralized national approach on a territory level. He believes the main issue that’s going to arise is, “How do we connect the programs and the stories being told at the state level with what’s happening nationally?” New York’s focus is tying together community celebrations with the statewide initiative — altogether telling the complexity of history and engaging with communities in the past who have been silenced in commemorations.

  • Kevin Cherry of North Carolina believes the decentralized approach opens up opportunities for support, but runs the risk of losing focus of the big picture. He suggests that perhaps the national Commission should come up with “the umbrella” so states can follow suit with their individual celebrations. He also mentions the downside of a lack of long term support if focus is lost, and explains the potential for perceived competition between institutions.

  • Randall Reid-Smith of West Virginia shares his state’s experience with successful celebrations in the past. He shares that, in 2010 for their 150th anniversary, West Virginia started educational opportunities for students to build pride in their state, such as a West Virginia State History Bowl. His biggest success was creating long-term opportunities to build state pride—jokingly adding that he has “to keep up with Pennsylvania.”

  • Jonathan Lane of Massachusetts begins with, “Don’t we all have to keep up with Pennsylvania?” The organization he has, Revolution 250, includes 62 nonprofit, for-profit and government agencies that all work together to build awareness and programming for 2026. Operating since 2015, the program consists of large scale programs and focuses on education, preservation and more. He hopes to bring MA communities together to preserve historical records and make the community members feel involved.

  • Jamie Markus of Wyoming says his state’s biggest obstacle in establishing an official America 250 Commission is finding and locking in “key decision makers both on the state and local community level.” He acknowledges that planning ahead will be beneficial in terms of receiving government funding and establishing private partnerships, and says that no one could ever start too early.

  • Stacey Aldrich of Hawaii says her state’s biggest challenge will be helping Hawaii tell the story of where Hawaiians have been—their sense of place and why their place is important—and how they fit into the history of the United States. She also mentions the importance of creating spaces for everyone to talk about positive progression and to ensure there is opportunity for the whole story of the state to be told and shared.

  • David Pettyjohn of Idaho says the America 250 initiative will be an opportunity to strengthen current partnerships and bring in new groups of people to connect with. He believes the legacy that America 250 will provide is ensuring that the state “has the opportunity to make sure every voice is heard in a respectful way” and that common ground can be established at a time that it is desperately needed.

  • Devin Lander of New York adds that there is an opportunity to “broaden the reach of history and get people interested in history again.”

  • Tamara Martin of California shares that America 250 will provide CA the opportunity to acknowledge the role of the state in the union, celebrate what residents are proud of, and learn from its complex history. She explains that only parts of the state are known, so America 250 will be used to share CA stories, histories, diversity and inclusion. Martin also touches upon the steps that CA is taking to promote community engagement and calls to action.

Rucci addresses an attendee’s question to Coleman— How will Pennsylvania address NGOs? Coleman: “. . .[E]veryone has to take into consideration this year with COVID, and it’s been tough to travel as all of you are probably in the same boat. So we’ve been really trying to get awareness and our story out via email blasts [and] social media—just more, again, an awareness that we do exist . . . and piggybacking on the comment about an obstacle, that’s part of an obstacle here: ‘How do we tell the story and create the awareness around America250PA which ultimately, then, provides awareness for America 250?’ “What we find is [that] folks just don’t know that we exist yet. Then, some of the pushback is, ‘It’s six years away. Come see us in two or three [years],’ not realizing that if we want to truly have an impact on communities across our Commonwealth or do infrastructure projects, that takes five to six years to have that impact. So, again, we are trying to let folks know we’re here. . . You can visit our website at America250PA.org and reach out to us. If you are in the Commonwealth and you want to be part of the celebration, we want to have you at the table with us, and we’re just going to continue to try to tell our story, raise the awareness, and, again, strive to truly have an impact on these communities across the Commonwealth.” After addressing the remaining attendee questions, Rucci concludes by sharing what’s next: using the feedback to “shape America 250 and engage others” and encouraging all to “plan now to participate in America 250,” follow up by sharing additional feedback to listen@america250.org, and visit America250.org to learn more. For more information about Coleman and Pennsylvania’s role in the 250th celebration, visit www.America250PA.org.


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