“Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and women. Surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and sisters, countrymen and countrywomen once again.” — Robert F. Kennedy, April 5, 1968
I went to sleep the night of June 5, 1968 having watched the projected returns from the California Democratic Primary. Having completed my college freshmen year, I dreamt that night about the changes coming and what they might mean for me.
Earlier that April, perhaps the same date that RFK sounded the call above, flying home for Spring Break, I observed the west side of Chicago, my hometown, in flames after Dr. King’s assassination. How could I have known then how quickly tragedy would strike two months later?
I would still spend another year in ROTC but the questions that Bobby Kennedy was raising about the Vietnam War were already resonating with me.
His calls to combat poverty and embrace civil rights were an awakening that six years later would become my 44-year vocation for equitable community development.
I did not foresee all those changes ahead for me, let alone our country, the morning of June 6th when I arose to learn of his assassination. Yet, I was profoundly moved to search for meaning and new ways to serve my country and my brothers and sisters.
This is not the first time I have used this RFK quote from his “Mindless Menace of Violence” speech in Cleveland the morning after Dr. King’s assassination. I did so in a blog after Trump’s inauguration speech. In my alternative history, I envisioned these simple words as the core value message of the inaugural speech that President Robert F. Kennedy could have delivered in January 1969. Given the continued onslaught of hate tweets, they should be considered imperative for the duration of the Trump Administration.
Binding the wounds will be a challenging task. Conversations are a start but underlying contradictions are pervasive obstacles to even approach the beginning of consensus. Demonstrating the possible is an appropriate response. But that too is no easy initiative.
Here at the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA] we have launched a new series of Conversations on Social Justice. The first topic was Immigration Reform. Hearing from the opening panelists on the urgency of their respective initiatives, it remains incomprehensible to me that a country founded by immigrants can’t reconcile welcoming policies and practices.
Future topics such as addressing homelessness and assuring equitable development implore action plans not only locally here in Chicago but also nationally and internationally. When designing for change, we must imagine a better world as Bobby did 50 years ago.