David Bruce Smith’s Grateful American® Foundation is dedicated to restoring enthusiasm in American history for kids, and adults.
Founded on President’s Day 2014, the mission of the organization is to provide insight and increase interest in the people and events that helped establish the United States. And the first phase of the project will highlight the work and lives of the founding presidents, from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln.
“You have to know where you came from to know where you are going,” insists Smith, a Washington, DC-based author and publisher who recently penned “American Hero: John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States.”
Smith has described the project as one where more people can dive into the genealogy of the country.
“Educators know history is critical to students learning how to become better citizens and understanding how the country’s political and cultural systems work,” says Smith.
“Students need to not only recognize leaders like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, but also understand why they were important to the development of the country.”
Smith knows of what he speaks, for he comes from a long line of grateful Americans.
- His grandfather, DC construction mogul Charles E. Smith (1901-1995), was a Jewish philanthropist and businessman who founded Charles E. Smith Cos. in 1946—one of Washington’s largest builders, developers, and property managers. Known for his wisdom, energy, and patient determination, Smith came to America from Russia as a boy unable to speak English, and he surmounted serious fiscal setbacks during the Great Depression and afterward before going on to build dozens of office buildings and thousands of apartment units in the Washington area. The Charles E. Smith Center, at George Washington University, was named for Charles when he was a university trustee.
- Smith’s father is Robert H. Smith (1928-2009). He took over the family business in 1967 with his brother-in-law, Robert P. Kogod. Together, they grew the company into one of the largest commercial and residential landlords in the Washington, DC, area, managing 24 million square feet of office space and more than 30,000 residential units. The Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park, was named in his honor in 1998.
- Smith’s mother is Clarice Smith, for whom the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland was named in 2001. An internationally acclaimed artist who has had numerous shows from New York City to Paris, she has collaborated with her son on several books, including “American Hero.”
“I actually borrowed the title for the Grateful American™ Series from my father, who always referred to himself that way,” says Smith about the impact his family has had on him. “The community and this country have been good to my family, and he never forgot it. I haven’t either. This is my way of giving back.”
In fact, studies show too many Americans—kids especially—aren’t knowledgeable about the country’s history.
Smith points to the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress report, which showed that just 13 percent of high school seniors tested showed solid academic performance in American history. The two other grade levels tested didn’t perform much better, with just 22 percent of 4th grade students and 18 percent of 8th graders scoring proficient or better.
“The test quizzed students on such topics as colonization, the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the contemporary United States, and one question asked 4th graders why it was important for the United States to build canals in the 1800s,” Smith explains. “But an amazing number of students weren’t able to answer those questions.
At the time, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said ‘the results tell us that, as a country, we are failing to provide children with a high-quality, well-rounded education.’ And I couldn’t agree more.”
Smith is frustrated that adults don’t seem to fare much better when tested on their knowledge of American history.
“In 2009, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute asked 2,500 randomly selected Americans 33 questions on civic literacy, and 71 percent of them received an average score of 49 percent—which is an F,” Smith shares, noting that the quiz revealed that more than twice as many people know Paula Abdul was a judge on the TV program, “American Idol,” than know that the phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
“It’s hard to believe, but unfortunately it’s true,” says Smith, who is hopeful to change the way Americans view history with the Grateful American™ Series. “The Founding Fathers and the iconic Americans who have made us into the country we are today should be as present in our lives as the Hollywood celebrities who dance across our TV screens. With the help of the leaders of our national presidential homes, educators, and history experts, my goal is to bring the exciting stories of their lives to the forefront.”
About David Bruce Smith
David Bruce Smith is an author, editor, publisher, and business executive based in Washington, DC. He is the founder and president of The Grateful American Foundation, an organization dedicated to restoring enthusiasm in American history for kids and adults. Smith has been a guest blogger for Maryland Humanities, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and Historic Deerfield. He also co-authors a bi-weekly column, History Matters, with John Grimaldi, and newsletters for his Grateful American Foundation, and David Bruce Smith Publications.
Early life and family
David Bruce Smith is the son of Robert H. Smith, a builder developer, philanthropist and former President of the National Gallery of Art. His mother is the world-renowned artist Clarice Chasen Smith. His grandfather was the real estate developer and philanthropist Charles E. Smith. Smith’s book Conversations with Papa Charlie is a memoir of the close relationship he had with his grandfather.
He holds a Bachelor of Arts in American Literature from George Washington University and a Master of Arts in Journalism from New York University.
Smith worked at the Charles E. Smith Realty Companies for two decades, progressing from a property management job in the Residential division, to vice-president and senior vice president positions in commercial management. He then switched to a career in writing, editing, and publishing. He founded, edited, and published Crystal City Magazine.
David Bruce Smith Publications was founded in 2003. The company specializes in creating, designing, and writing limited-edition books on a variety of subjects such as authors, historic figures, artists, and leaders.
Smith is the author of thirteen books: In Many Arenas, 13 Young Men, Tennessee, Three Miles from Providence, Conversations with Papa Charlie, Afternoon Tea with Mom, Letters to My Children, Building the Community, Continuum, Building My Life, Souvenirs of the Riviera and the children’s book American Hero: John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States and Abigail & John. He is also a reviewer of books for several publications. Smith also authored the preface of American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) booklet, “No U.S. History?”
In 2014 he launched The Grateful American Series, an interactive multimedia program designed to restore enthusiasm in American history for children and adults.
The Grateful American Foundation, which focuses on publishing materials and producing activities for children about American History, was founded in 2014.
Grateful American Book Prize
In March 2015 Smith co-founded the Grateful American Book Prize, with Dr. Bruce Cole, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The annual award will honor a single 7th-9th grade level work culled from fiction, historical fiction, and non-fiction entries.
The Prize consists of a $13,000 cash award in commemoration of the 13 original Colonies. In addition, the winner receives a silver medal designed by Smith’s mother, the renowned artist Clarice Smith.
The inaugural winner, announced at President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, was Kathy Cannon Wiechman for her Civil War novel, Like a River. It was the author’s first book. 2015 Honorable Mentions were Michaela MacColl’s The Revelation of Louisa May and Darlene Beck Jacobson’s Wheels of Change.
2016’s Grateful American Book Prize was presented to Chris Stevenson at the Library of Congress for his Revolutionary War novel, The Drum of Destiny. “Honorable Mentions” went to Michaela MacColl’s and Rosemary Nichols’s, Freedom’s Price, and Laura Amy Schlitz’s, The Hired Girl.
2017’s Grateful American Book Prize was given to Margot Lee Shetterly at Washington, DC’s National Archives for Hidden Figures, a true story of four African American women, hired by NASA in the mid-twentieth century, to be “human” computers. “Honorable Mentions” went to Jennifer Latham for Dreamland Burning, and Edward Cody Huddleston’s, The Story of John Quincy Adams 250 Years After His Birth.
2018’s Grateful American Book Prize was given to L. M. Elliott at the Society of the Cincinnati for the Cold War-themed, Suspect Red. A double winner, she also received one of the two “Honorable Mentions” for Hamilton and Peggy! A Revolutionary Friendship: the other was presented to Teri Kanefield for Andrew Jackson: The History of America.
2019’s Grateful American Book Prize was presented to Sonia Sotomayor at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, Washington, DC, for her memoir, The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor. “Honorable Mentions” went to Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Tonya Bolden for Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction And The Dawning Of Jim Crow, and to Mike Winchell for The Electric War: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race To Light The World.
2020’s Grateful American Book Prize was presented, virtually, to Sharon Robinson, for Child of the Dream: A Memoir of 1963. “Honorable Mentions” went to Alan Gratz for “Allies,” and Larry Dane Brimmer for Accused! The Trials of the Scottsboro Boys: Lies, Prejudice, and the Fourteenth Amendment.
2021’s Grateful American Book Prize was given virtually to Alan Gratz for Ground Zero: A Novel of 9/11, while “Honorable Mentions” went to Chris Stevenson’s The Cannon of Courage: Gabriel Cooper & the Noble Train of Artillery, and Michaela MacColl’s View from Pagoda Hill.
Grateful American Book Series
The book series concentrates on historical couples that were—in actuality—an equal partnership. The first is Abigail & John (Adams), published in August 2019.
Smith established a scholarship fund for undergraduate students at George Washington University.
In 2009 he helped to establish “Jewish Literature Live” at George Washington University. The course on contemporary Jewish American works of literature allows students to study and interact with prominent Jewish American authors. Renowned writer and George Washington University professor Faye Moskowitz taught the course.
The Gettysburg Foundation began the David Bruce Smith Education Initiative in 2009, a decade of public programs and educational opportunities that highlight Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and legacy. The Robert H. Smith Family Foundation supports the initiative.
Memberships and affiliations
He is President of the National Institute of Psychobiology in Jerusalem, Israel, a member of the Advisory Board at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue and a member of the Board of Advisors for the Washington Independent Review of Books. He co-judged Moment Magazine’s Jewish Literature Award, 2012.
Smith joined the Foundation Board at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 2014; in 2015, he was elected to the Board of the Smithsonian Libraries. He also served on the board of the Washington, DC Jewish Community Center, Arena Stage, and President Lincoln’s Cottage. In 2017 Smith was appointed to the History News Network Board. In 2018, Smith was elected to the board of Restless Books. Smith has been a board member of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) since 2017 and a board member of the Supreme Court Historical Society since 2022. He is also a former member of George Washington University and WETA’s Board of Directors.
Awards and honors
In 2012 Smith received the Ottenstein Award for Community Service from the Jewish Social Services Agency of Washington, DC. He received the Hymen Goldman Humanitarian award in 2013 from the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington, and an honorary fellowship from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.