Home About Us Media Kit Subscriptions Links Forum

View All Articles

Download PDF










Camps & Sports


Children’s Corner

Collected Features


Cover Stories

Distance Learning


Famous Interviews


Medical Update

Metro Beat

Movies & Theater


Music, Art & Dance

Special Education

Spotlight On Schools

Teachers of the Month



















Remembering Robert Francis Kennedy
by Pola Rosen, Ed.D.

The name Kennedy is synonymous with public service, with answering the call to improve the lives of all people around the globe. Robert Kennedy was the attorney general of the United States from 1961-1964 and senator from 1965-1968. In the tragic aftermath of his brother President John Kennedy’s assassination, he was murdered in Los Angeles in 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel.

The Kennedys always admired the courage of others fighting adversity. Profiles in Courage, written by President John Kennedy, celebrated those individuals who represented the best of humanity. Passing the mantle of champion of human rights, Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert Kennedy, recently published a book, Speak Truth to Power, celebrating and applauding the lives of 41 brave men and women that she met in her travels around the world.

November marked the 80th birthday of Robert F. Kennedy. Robert Kennedy answered the call to action to create a more just world and in the process he influenced generations of social, political and cultural leaders. His vision was to empower communities and secure the rights of the individual. 

The RFK Memorial honored his life and his legacy in Washington DC recently, with the 2005 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, presented to Stephen Bradberry, the Lead Organizer of the New Orleans chapter of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Keynote Speaker Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) spoke about how RFK’s legacy has impacted America and how the legacy is alive and thriving.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the  Presentation of the 2005 RFK Human Rights Award to Stephen Bradberry of New Orleans

We’re very proud of Ethel, Kerry, and everyone else at the Memorial for their extraordinary leadership and commitment in carrying on Bobby’s ideals. I know my brother would be very grateful to all of you for advancing his work so well, and he’d be especially pleased with this year’s recipient of the human rights award in his name.

Bobby dedicated much of his life to social justice in all nations and for all peoples, and this award was created to honor courageous individuals fighting for that ideal.

Often, the award has recognized human rights heroes from abroad. But this year, with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina so much in mind, we turn our sights homeward. No event in modern America has destroyed so much and uprooted so many in so short a time as that violent storm, with much of the magnificent City of New Orleans and the beloved Gulf Coast reduced to ruin.

I visited the area soon after the storm and was deeply shocked to see the devastation. For many of our fellow citizens in New Orleans and the Gulf Region, there is literally nothing to return to. Entire communities are completely gone. All that’s left of endless blocks are the concrete slabs where family homes once stood.

The violent winds and flood tore away the mask that has long concealed the silent slavery of poverty in so much of our society. Katrina showed how long a journey we still have to make to live up to America’s promise. For a new generation of Americans who did not live through the civil rights movement or the Vietnam War or Watergate—Katrina was their American apocalypse. More than any event in their lifetimes, it revealed the consequences of our nation’s neglect.

But new young leaders like our honoree understand that the darkest time often comes just before a dawn. On my visit to the Gulf Coast, I was moved by the caring and courage of ordinary people stepping up in extraordinary ways to rebuild lives and communities. Churches, police officers, firefighters, National Guard members, families, friends, neighbors, strangers—they came together and became heroes in the wake of the storm. They saw the face of poverty and homelessness, and responded instantly by joining the fight against despair.

To their credit, some courageous and very dedicated people had joined that fight long before, even when the storms weren’t arriving and the cameras weren’t rolling. Among the best of those who have been fighting the good fight with great courage is this year’s honoree, Stephen Bradberry of New Orleans.

Stephen is the lead organizer for the New Orleans chapter of ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. He’s lived in New Orleans for 18 years. He’s originally from Chicago, but stayed on in the Crescent City after graduating from Dillard University in 1992. At Dillard, his eyes were opened to new depths of poverty. He came face to face with the plight of people in poverty in the state with the largest proportion of men and women in the nation living on the minimum wage or less.

Ever since, he’s been a relentless crusader for social and economic justice. He battles every day, and with great humility, to empower the poor of New Orleans and mobilize them to fight more effectively for themselves.

After Hurricane Katrina, he temporarily moved to Baton Rouge, organizing in shelters, and locating and supporting ACORN members displaced by the storm. But Stephen kept the faith, and is leading a new movement to give the low-income community of New Orleans a genuine voice in the redevelopment of their city. Survivors I met told me they don’t want veto power over every proposal to rebuild their region—they just need a voice in the rebuilding of their own communities, and ACORN is their voice.

The name is especially appropriate—Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. That says it all. Typically, it plants seeds in communities across America that can grow into mighty oaks with strong roots and far-reaching branches in the ongoing struggle for progress, opportunity, and justice. It’s the nation’s largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families, with 175,000 member families and 850 neighborhood chapters in 75 cities in our country, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and Peru.

Robert Kennedy understood the critical importance of local activists like Stephen in these struggles. “In the fight for social justice,” Bobby said, “national power can create and encourage, but local power is determinative.” Stephen has been that kind of determined leader for ACORN, organizing the poverty community through marches, demonstrations, media campaigns, leadership training, door-to-door visits, e-mail, and the Internet. He’s led New Orleans ACORN into battle for a living wage and for voting rights—and against lead poisoning and predatory lending. Now he’s waging a new battle in support of fair rebuilding after the hurricane.

Stephen has had other missions as well. In New Orleans’ Eighth Ward, he’s worked with the local carpenters union to reduce exposure to lead poisoning in old homes. It’s characteristic of ACORN that the local union is offering apprenticeships to young men and women ages 18 to 24—giving them a priceless opportunity to learn how to find their way out of poverty. As the Chinese saying goes, give people a fish, and you’ll feed them for a day. But teach them to fish, and you’ll feed them for a lifetime.

Stephen’s also led the most effective voting rights campaign in New Orleans. “A lot of other organizations have been doing big, flashy events,” he says, “but we’ve been out there in the neighborhoods where people are, signing them up door-to-door, at bus stops, wherever people congregate. Slow and steady wins the race.” Of the 460,000 residents of Orleans Parish, over 302,000 are registered to vote in this historic treasure of an American city, including almost 200,000 African Americans.

In fact, that’s ACORN’s defining cause -- and it’s effective. In November 2004, because of ACORN, 71 percent of voters in Florida and 68 percent in Nevada approved ballot initiatives to raise their state’s minimum wage. Similar initiatives are now underway for next year’s elections in Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, and Colorado.These campaigns are strong and successful tributes to the power of the grassroots. They draw people to the polls because the people know it makes a difference in their daily lives.

In the wake of Katrina, that struggle in New Orleans is especially important. Before the hurricane, one of every 20 workers in Louisiana earned the minimum wage or less—almost twice the national average. A quarter of the population lived in poverty—77 percent higher than the national average.

The challenge facing these low-wage workers was aggravated by the Administration’s harsh decision to suspend the protection of prevailing wage laws for reconstruction workers in the Gulf Coast—a needless and appalling insult to suffering workers and their families. ACORN made its outrage known. Thanks to its efforts, the Administration admitted the error of its ways and reinstated the long-standing federal wage protections for these hard-working Americans.

But there is much more to do. Stephen sees the living wage as indispensable in attracting residents back to New Orleans. As he says, “people have moved away from this city and have seen that they can make more money in other places. The simple fact of the matter,” he says, “is you can’t pay a minimum wage in New Orleans right now, because there is nobody in the city. So you have to pay people in order to have them come to work.” In 1968, Bobby spoke about this need, in words that ring even more true after Katrina.

Perhaps the most invisible of all among the invisible poor are those in the immigrant neighborhoods and communities of New Orleans. A century and a half ago, thousands of Irish immigrants gave their lives digging the New Basin Canal, which linked the city with Lake Ponchartrain at the time. Lost from public view today are thousands of contemporary immigrants, especially from Mexico, Honduras, and Vietnam, who had been living in the areas hit hardest along the Gulf Coast. Few have sought help from relief agencies or gone to shelters, for fear they’ll be deported. Whatever violations of the immigration laws they may have committed, we can’t wash our hands of their plight and let their suffering continue.

As this disaster reminds us, we’re all part of a family—and we have a responsibility to help members of our family in need. More than ever, as we have learned so painfully in recent weeks, the war on poverty has casualties like any other war—and so far, we are losing this war.

Government must respond in ways that are as good and as compassionate as the American people. We know what must be done. We’re a stronger country when we’re a fairer country. Inequality and injustice undermine our economy, our security, our standing in the world, our future. We need to wage a wiser war on poverty. That means a broader effort and a new spirit of cooperation to reduce poverty, a genuine new dedication carried out by leaders in government at every level, in religion, in industry, and in the academic community.

This is our opportunity and our calling—and it’s our duty—to get it right. We can rebuild the Gulf Coast in a manner that lifts people up and gives them a voice. We can reduce and even eradicate poverty in the nation, and reclaim our moral standing in the world. Other nations still desperately want to look to us for moral guidance and leadership, and we cannot fail again.

As Bobby said, “The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike. Rather, it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason, and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American society.”

He believed that we must “learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of others.”

“All of us,” he said, “from the wealthiest and most powerful of men to the weakest and hungriest of children, share one precious possession: the name ‘American.’”

In April 1968, he ended his remarks about the Bedford-Stuyvesant community in New York City with words that ring especially true today about Stephen. “We live in a time when the nation is deeply divided. But you have proven that we need not remain so. Together we can attack the problems that seem so overwhelming, and master them. Your example should give courage to all Americans in the difficult days before us.”

Stephen, you honor my brother immensely in your mission to make this a more just and peaceful land. Bobby would be very, very proud of all you’re doing to carry on his unfinished work, and to help all those living in even the deepest shadows, about whom he cared so much.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama at the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award Ceremony, Wednesday, November 16, 2005, Washington, DC

I come to this with tremendous humility. I was only seven when Bobby Kennedy died.  Many of the people in this room knew him as brother, as husband, as father, as friend.

I knew him only as an icon.  In that sense, it is a distance I share with most of the people who now work in this Capitol—many of whom were not even born when Bobby Kennedy died.  But what’s interesting is that if you go throughout the offices in the Capitol, everywhere you’ll find photographs of Kennedy, or collections of his speeches, or some other memento of his life.

Why is this?  Why is it that this man who was never President, who was our Attorney General for only three years, who was New York’s junior Senator for just three and a half, still calls to us today?  Still inspires our debate with his words, animates our politics with his ideas, and calls us to make gentle the life of a world that’s too often coarse and unforgiving?

Obviously, much has to do with charisma and eloquence – that unique ability, rare for most but common among Kennedys, to sum up the hopes and dreams of the most diverse nation on Earth with a simple phrase or sentence; to inspire even the most apathetic observers of American life.

Part of it is his youth—both the time of life and the state of mind that dared us to hope that even after John was killed; even after we lost King; there would come a younger, energetic Kennedy who could make us believe again.

But beyond these qualities, there’s something more.

Within the confines of these walls and the boundaries of this city, it becomes very easy to play small-ball politics. Somewhere between the partisan deadlock and the twenty-four hour news cycles, the contrived talking points and the focus on the sensational over the substantive, issues of war and poverty, hopelessness and lawlessness become problems to be managed, not crises to be solved. They become fodder for the Sunday show scrum, not places to find genuine consensus and compromise. And so, at some point, we stop reaching for the possible and resign ourselves to that which is most probable.

This is what happens in Washington.

And yet, as this goes on, somewhere another child goes hungry in a neighborhood just blocks away from one where a family is too full to eat another bite.  Somewhere another hurricane survivor still searches for a home to return to or a school for her daughter. Somewhere another twelve-year-old is gunned down by an assailant who used to be his kindergarten playmate, and another parent loses their child on the streets of Tikrit.

But somewhere, there have also always been people who believe that this isn’t the way it was supposed to be—that things should be different in America.  People who believe that while evil and suffering will always exist, this is a country that has been fueled by small miracles and boundless dreams—a place where we’re not afraid to face down the greatest challenges in pursuit of the greater good; a place where, against all odds, we overcome.

Bobby Kennedy was one of these people.

In a nation torn by war and divided against itself, he was able to look us in the eye and tell us that no matter how many cities burned with violence, no matter how persistent the poverty or the racism, no matter how far adrift America strayed, hope would come again.

It was an idealism not based in rigid ideology.  Yes, he believed that government is a force for good—but not the only force. He distrusted big bureaucracies, and knew that change erupts from the will of free people in a free society; that it comes not only from new programs, but new attitudes as well.

The idealism of Robert Kennedy—the unfinished legacy that calls us still—is a fundamental belief in the continued perfection of American ideals.

It’s a belief that says if this nation was truly founded on the principles of freedom and equality, it could not sit idly by while millions were shackled because of the color of their skin. That if we are to shine as a beacon of hope to the rest of the world, we must be respected not just for the might of our military, but for the reach of our ideals. That if this is a land where destiny is not determined by birth or circumstance, we have a duty to ensure that the child of a millionaire and the child of a welfare mom have the same chance in life. That if out of many, we are truly one, then we must not limit ourselves to the pursuit of selfish gain, but that which will help all Americans rise together.

We have not always lived up to these ideals and we may fail again in the future, but this legacy calls on us to try. And the reason it does—the reason we still hear the echo of not only Bobby’s words, but John’s and King’s and Roosevelt’s and Lincoln’s before him—is because they stand in such stark contrast to the place in which we find ourselves today.

Our greatness as a nation has depended on individual initiative, on a belief in the free market. But it has also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, the idea that everybody has a stake in the country, that we’re all in it together and everybody’s got a shot at opportunity.

Robert Kennedy reminded us of this. He reminds us still. He reminds us that we don’t need to wait for a hurricane to know that Third World living conditions in the middle of an American city make us all poorer. We don’t have to accept the diminishment of the American Dream in this country now, or ever.

If he were here today, I think it would be hard to place Robert F. Kennedy into any of the categories that so often constrain us politically. He was a fervent anti-communist but knew diplomacy was our way out of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He sought to wage the war on poverty but with local partnerships and community activism. He was at once both hard-headed and big-hearted.

And yet, his was not a centrism in the sense of finding a middle road or a certain point on the ideological spectrum.  His was a politics that, at its heart, was deeply moral—based on the notion that in this world, there is right and there is wrong, and it’s our job to organize our laws and our lives around recognizing the difference.

When RFK made his famous trip to the Mississippi Delta with Charles Evers in 1967, the story is often told about the destitute they encountered as they walked from shack to shack. As they walk into one with hardly a ceiling and a floor full of holes, Kennedy sees a small child with a swollen stomach sitting in the corner. He tries and tries to talk to this child again and again, but he gets no response, no movement, not even a look of awareness. Just a blank stare from cold, wide eyes so battered by poverty that they’re barely alive.

And at that point we’re told that Kennedy begins to cry. And he turns to Evers and asks “How can a country like this allow it?” and Evers responds “Maybe they just don’t know.”

Bobby Kennedy spent his life making sure that we knew—not only to wake us from indifference and face us with the darkness we let slip into our own backyard, but to bring us the good news that we have it within our power to change all this; to write our own destiny. Because we are a people of hope.  Because we are Americans.

This is the good news we still hear all these years later—the message that still points us down the road that Bobby Kennedy never finished traveling.  It’s a road I hope our politics and our country begin to take in the months and years to come.#

In honor of RFK’s 80th Birthday this November, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights and Guggenheim Productions (www.gpifilms.com) will be offering Charles Guggenheim’s Academy Award Winning film Robert Kennedy Remembered as a special gift for donating to the Center for Human Rights through the new Shop Site. You can join the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial in supporting RFK’s vision and in fighting to secure human rights across the globe. http://en.groundspring.org/EmailNow



Show email





Education Update, Inc.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2009.