By Leonard R. Lenihan
On June 6, 1966, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy gave a Day of Affirmation Address at the University of Cape Town’s Day of Reaffirmation of Academic and Human Freedom celebration in Cape Town, South Africa.
In this speech, as relevant today as it was 54 years ago, Kennedy talks as a leader who makes concerted efforts to “meet and exchange views with people of all walks of life” and all segments of opinion.
It is a speech that defines freedom and democracy as “the belief that the individual man, the child of God, is the touchstone of value, and all society, all groups, and states, exist for that person’s benefit. Therefore, the enlargement of liberty for individual human beings must be the supreme goal and the abiding practice of any Western society.”
It is a speech that defines the elements of liberty not just as the freedom of speech but also as the freedom to be heard.
It is a speech that promoted governments that recognize the “the full human equality of all of our people – before God, before the law, and in the councils of government.”
It is a speech, before the internet and 24/7 news cycles, that questioned why “earthbound man still clings to the dark and poisoning superstition that his world is bounded by the nearest hill, his universe ends at river’s shore, his common humanity is enclosed in the tight circle of those who share his town or his views and the color of his skin.”
And it is a speech that is a call to action as critical today as it was then:
“Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of this generation… Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
All my life I have been a student of politics, of leadership and with my friend of 60 plus years, Norm Mineo, of the legacy of the Kennedys. But I am conveying this message as a father and grandfather.
Together, now more than ever, we must be “inspired to have individual actions that cross each other from a million different centers of energy” to create the world we all want to have to pass down to our children and our children’s children.
Leonard R. Lenihan is the former chairman of the Erie County Legislature and of the Erie County Democratic Committee.