By John L. Byrwa
The message, like most of a divine nature, came to Clyde Strickland in a most unusual way.
But it came nonetheless, and Strickland, a God-fearing soul of 76 years, knew in his heart that he had dare not deny its validity nor ignore its import.
“It was 2011, and it was about 2:30 in the morning,” Strickland said. “I was just praying, like I do every night, and I just told God, ‘God, I can’t do this by myself. I need your help.’ Then this vision came to me. I mean, it was clear as day, like a TV screen. And it said, ‘Make this movie.’
“It didn’t say what movie, but He has opened the doors and He has led us, and it’s been unbelievable what’s happened.”
What’s happened is that through Strickland heeding His call, and driven by his determination, his vision and his generosity, one of the most impactful movies you’ve likely never seen nor heard of – yet – was produced, all in a concerted effort to save the America that Strickland and his wife of 52 years, Sandra, love and pray for literally every day of their lives.
American Made Movie is 82 informative minutes of documentary filmmaking that tells a story that so many Americans are all too familiar with – most notably how nonsensical government policies, unabashed corporate greed and a general decline in the American spirit have conspired to decimate our manufacturing industry, wound our entrepreneurial spirit and cripple our economy.
Financed through the Strickland’s philanthropy – which impressively has funded projects at Gwinnett Medical Center ($1 million), the Hope Clinic ($890,000), Rainbow Village ($250,000), American Cancer Society, Habitat for Humanity and several Gwinnett churches, among countless others – American Made Movie uses slick cinematography, jaw-dropping statistics, interviews from economic and manufacturing experts, and the trials and tribulations of a handful of American entrepreneurs to tell a story that Strickland believes every American should hear.
And he’s taken his message directly to young minds in Georgia and other states.
In February, the Georgia Department of Education and the Georgia Board of Education endorsed the educational version of the “American Made Movie,” and adopted curriculum materials that will be available throughout public schools in Georgia. According to Strickland, the film has been shown in 950 middle and high schools in Georgia, and print and support materials for middle schools and high schools, as well as funds for leadership and teacher development, will be available through a partnership with the Georgia Foundation for Public Education, which uses private money for a specific educational project.
“That’s more than 500,000 ‘little minds’ that will know what it means to buy American,” Strickland said.
And know also how they can do their part to turn their country around.
Directed by 1999 Dacula High School graduates Nathaniel McGill and Vincent Vittorio, American Made Movie not only exposes some of the causes behind the depressing decline of American manufacturing over the past few decades – according to the movie, some 57,000 manufacturing facilities have closed, taking with them more than 7 million jobs -- it also describes how everyday consumers can reverse that downward spiral and contribute to a resurgence that would solve many of our country’s economic ills.
Heart of Gwinnett members send message of support to Buy American and shop local this holiday season.
On Oct. 13, at Randy’s Perennials and Water Gardens in the shadow of Central Gwinnett High School in Lawrenceville, Strickland addressed a gathering of 50 or so members and friends of Heart of Gwinnett, a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering business networking, volunteerism, churches and other community organizations. Surrounded by quaint lawn sculptures, various potted plants and even a pen of cute, cuddly rabbits for sale, Strickland stood on some strewn hay and spoke in the only way he knows: Plainly, to the point and in a syrupy southern drawl that drips of you’d-better-listen-to-what-I’m-telling-you-or-else.
“You know what’s the most powerful tool you have to put America back to work and save our country?,” Strickland said while reaching into his back pocket and pulling out his worn, brown leather wallet. “This right here. You have the power with this right here to put your hard-earned money to work for America.
“When I walk into a Walmart – every time I walk into a Walmart – I always ask one of the associates working there – they’ll help you, you know, they really will – and I ask them, ‘Where are your American-made products? And they’ll say, ‘Um, um …,’ and they can’t show me one. So I say thank you very much, and I walk right out of the store.”
That, in a nutshell, is the message of both Strickland’s call, and his American Made Movie: by making a conscientious effort to purchase as many American-made products as possible, every American can not only put money into the pockets of countless other Americans, but they can help re-establish America as the global manufacturing powerhouse once was.
“If we can change a mind,” Strickland says, leaning forward for added impact, “We can change America. We need people to know what it means to buy American. Take something like (tennis) shoes. People need to know what it means to buy New Balance shoes (made in America) versus Nike shoes (made primarily in Asia).
“When people buy one pair of New Balance shoes, it creates 51 taxpayers. It’s that simple. We can change this country. We can make America bold again, just by standing up for America.”
Then Strickland reaches into his other pocket and pulls out his mobile phone.
“You see this right here,” Strickland says while holding up the phone for all to see. “This the Devil’s tool. But we can turn it into the save America tool. Every person knows someone. Every person knows 10 people, some know 25, some know 100, some know 150, some more. Get on that phone and tell every person you know how important it is that they buy American.
“I’m telling you, we can change this country. We can make America great again.”
Strickland’s enthusiasm is infectious. It is the same enthusiasm that he brought with him from his modest childhood home in North Carolina to Gwinnett County in 1969. Armed with only that enthusiasm, $500 in his pocket and a dream of success in his heart, Strickland, the son of sharecroppers -- “My momma and daddy, neither one of them could read or write,” Strickland said -- founded Metro Waterproofing, Inc., with “a $1,400 pickup truck, a $100 ladder and a second mortgage on our house.”
Thirty-plus years later, Metro Waterproofing, Inc., which specializes in providing a myriad of waterproofing-related services, and counts among its clients Coca-Cola, the University of Georgia, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, AT&T, MARTA and the Georgia World Congress Center, is the largest business of its kind in the Southeast and employs more than 400 people.
Looking back on his childhood, to a simpler, more honest time, Strickland recalled how it felt to live in a country that was proud of its values, proud of performing an honest day’s work, and proud of its most cherished gift.
“The children could run free and we could play and go down to the rivers, at 6 and 7 years old, all by ourselves and nobody was after you,” Strickland said. “I mean, you were free. You had freedom, and that freedom is what we’ve lost.
“What some people don’t realize is that every day we’re losing, inch by inch, a little bit more of our freedom.”
We’ve also lost, according to Strickland, a sense of what it means to rise in the morning, put on one’s work clothes and do whatever it took to put food on the table, clothes on one’s back, shoes on one’s feet and, most of all, take pride in who they are and from whence they came.
“We were taught, from the time we were 6 years old, that you had to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and go to work,” Strickland said. “When my children, who graduated from Central Gwinnett High School right here, were 6 years old, they got out of bed at 5 o’clock in the morning and they started to work.
“And they all graduated from college, they’re all successful, and they still get up at 5 o’clock in the morning. And they know that if you’ll work, you can eat. It’s a simple philosophy that we have in our family.”
Likewise, Strickland’s message to young and old alike, is simple: Focus on what’s important in life. And in his words, there are really only four things worthy of our focus.
“Number one, God,” he says. “Now some folks might not want to hear that, and I don’t care if you like it or not. But God is number one. Number two, family. Number three, work. Number four, America. In that order. God, family, work and America.”
“Now, if people would quit talking about football and baseball and all that crap that don’t mean nothing, and start talking about what really means something to America, we can change this country. We’re too busy worrying about what the football score is or what the golf score is, or about things that don’t mean one iota to America, so we have to start concentrating on what’s good for America.”
Make no mistake, Clyde Strickland and his message are good for America. And when he’s dead and gone, he knows exactly what he wants inscribed on his tombstone.
“Here lies an American,” Strickland said without the hint of a smile. “Plain and simple. Here lies an American.”
To learn more about American Made Movie or to purchase the Blu-Ray and DVD, please visit http://www.theamericanmademovie.com. And to visit the Made in America Store, which sells products made entirely in the U.S., and was featured in American Made Movie, visit http://www.madeinamericastore.com.