(Photo from National Archives)
I will never forget the gaze of those human beings with such emaciated bodies. As a little girl, I saw newsreels of concentration camp victims. These were people whom I knew were connected to me in some way, although no one I knew personally was part of that horrific tragedy. Perhaps this experience marked me in some way, or perhaps it was my parents’ sadness around the subject. I knew, even as a young child that what happened to others mattered to me.
I was 13 when President Kennedy was killed, in an America I loved that was deep in the throws of the Civil Rights movement. My civic passion ignited, I wanted to go to Mississippi to help out. I wrote to churches far from my home in Los Angeles, hoping to find someone who would convince my parents that my traveling to join the protesters was a good idea. Instead, I received a letter from a kind woman who told me that if I wanted to do something I should start from home. People at her church needed clothing, she shared. She would gladly accept donations, should I want to mail them to her. But otherwise, she asked that I talk about my ideas with people I knew. “That is important work, too,” she said.
Disappointed but dogged, I did as she asked. I think I was motivated by a president who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Yes, he, like many men throughout history, was a womanizer. He probably had other human flaws as well, among them not ending the Vietnam War. But he inspired me. He was a man full of goodness among his human frailties.
This is what we need now: national leadership that inspires goodness and good deeds, as inspiration for children and adults. I invite you to help me spread the word. Help me share your stories to inspire Americans to help turn this nightmare that has become our national narrative into the country our founders intended, despite their own human frailties and our own.