Monday, May 4, 2009

PROFILE IN COURAGE: UNR STAND: Passing the torch....

The following is a speech I made at the closing meeting of UNR STAND at the Joe Crowley Student Union. It is a student organization at the University of Nevada Reno who works to educate and instruct students and the community on the plight of our fellow men and women in conflict areas through out the world. This was following their first successful fundraiser at the in Carson City. On Saturday, April 25, 2009, UNR STAND held its 1st Annual STAND FOR HUMANITY Benefit Dinner and Art Auction at the Governor's Mansion in Carson City, Nevada. It was a Black Tie Event. The event was held from 6:00pm - 9:00pm. There was about 55 people were in attendance, some traveling all the way from Las Vegas. UNR STAND was able to raise $2,000 for civilian protection initiatives in Darfur, Sudan and eastern Burma. All proceeds from Stand for Humanity will be donated to GI-NET’s Civilian Protection Program, which supports on-the-ground activities that aim to protect civilians at risk of genocidal violence. I wanted to make these comments and address the club's members because of a conversation I had with my parish priest one night over dinner regarding youth in our community and parish.

Voltaire put it simply, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” I am a writer by craft, and I have two manuscripts I am working on and one of them is called The Seven Passions of Gabrielle Emelie, and it is modeled after Voltaire’s Candide. When I read about the warrant for Bashir’s arrest, I pondered what Voltaire would have said of such news. I would presume he would say that “All murders are made accountable and therefore punished, except those who kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” We often mistake technological advances for evolution… Voltaire wrote of the Earthquake and Tsunamis that racked Lisbon in 1755:

UNHAPPY mortals! Dark and mourning earth!
Affrighted gathering of human kind!
Eternal lingering of useless pain!
Come, ye philosophers, who cry, "All’s well,"
And contemplate this ruin of a world.
Behold these shreds and cinders of your race,
This child and mother heaped in common wreck,
These scattered limbs beneath the marble shafts—

When the cyclone hit Burma in May of last year (2008), I wondered, ‘has anything changed?’ Or are we still crying “All’s well,” the tranquil spectators of our brothers’ wreck, unmoved by the repellent dance of death in Rwanda, Darfur, Burma and elsewhere? Would Voltaire say that we are better than what we were? Have we taken care of our garden as Candide called his companions to do at the end of the novel? A friend of mine and I had a rather funny discussion about a mundane thing in church. The act of reaching out and holding hands while you say the Lord’s prayer. Some people have an issue with it, so NOT everyone will hold your hand during the Lord's Prayer or shake your hand when you offer it in peace, and it's damn rare that they will reach across the aisle to the person on the other side. WHEN it does happen, it's always a child pulling the adult across. My friend asked why was I so keen on it and I replied that I am a global person, among other things, the holding hands is big for me as it's a metaphor for the larger problems in our world. Why people in Darfur and Rwanda suffer and die, as we stand idly by and cry "All is well." Why Jews, Christians and Muslims, slaughter each other as they pray to the SAME God, why we don't have national health care, we decry welfare, TANF, Headstart and won't fund education, but we'll bail out GM, Wall Street and the Banks. If good God fearing, Republican voting, Fox news watching, Christians won't hold hands with the same God fearing, Republican voting, Fox news watching Christians in THEIR own Church, maybe that ought to say something about who we are; who we’ve become. Like in Les Miz, "Look down and show some mercy if you can - Look down, look down, upon your fellow man!" Is it really so hard, so difficult to pull your hand out of your pocket and extend it to the person standing next to you. To hold their hand in prayer to OUR God, to help them up off the street, to hand them a meal when they are hungry, to help them put on a jacket when it's cold…to put your hand around them when they need to be comforted. Like Candide said, to care for our own garden. What y’all do here is exactly that – you stretch out your arm and extend a helping hand to someone in need.

Philip Ernest Schoenberg, a Kennedy confidant and family friend, once published 13 key lessons on leadership from John Kennedy’s presidency. Those are: Set High Goals by Sharing a Vision, Be Independent, Set an Example by Becoming a Role Model, Be a Life Long Learner, Doing the Little Things Lead to the Big Things, Be a Great Communicator, Take responsibility, Demand excellence from others, Learn From Failures and Mistakes, Have the Courage of Your convictions by Believing in Yourself, Be a Team Leader, Show Compassion, and Lesson No. 13: Be Lucky. These are lessons and goals that I believe this organization and its members fully embody in not only its rhetoric but in its actions. Y’all don’t just talk the talk; y’all walk the walk. Jack Kennedy’s brother, Bobby, delivered a speech in March of 1968, two months before his own assassination, {Read Excerpt}

I often use another quote from Robert Kennedy who said it is not just bravery under fire or the bravery to make sacrifices, but the bravery to discard the comfort of illusion, to do away with false hopes and alluring promises. It takes courage in a crisis to speak plainly when many seek comfort; Courage to educate and instruct in times of difficulty when others want reassurance; courage to reveal frustration when faced with uncertainty rather than promise satisfaction. I feel sincerely that men and women such as yourselves…Carolina, Jenna and Kaitlyn are such examples of courage in our society. If I did not or have not communicated that effectively to each of you, I'd like to do so now. I remember the first time that I read Kennedy's book, Profiles in Courage. Jack Kennedy, who had lived a heroic life, had the right to write a book about other heroes. He wrote about United States Senators who had supported unpopular causes and risked their careers. The other day, Carolina posted an article on Facebook that told the story of five members of Congress and three activists who were arrested on civil disobedience charges in front of the Sudanese Embassy on Monday for protesting "crimes against humanity" in Darfur. The lawmakers -- Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma), John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.) -- were handcuffed by Secret Service officers after crossing the tape and taken to jail by local police officers. These men and women, as well as all of you here today can be counted among those listed by Kennedy earlier. Yours is also a profile in courage; a reminder to our community, our country and our world what it means to be an American. I remain steadfast in my belief that this is a great nation and a great people. Any who seek to comfort rather than speak plainly, reassure rather than instruct, promise satisfaction rather than reveal frustration; they deny that greatness and drain that strength. Kennedy once said that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans— born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world. Half a century after they were uttered, those words still ring true. Over the past two decades, that torch has weathered some storms, and in some cases have wavered and dimmed. Yet another generation, your generation, moves it forward, to light the future and to lead the way. During the last election, CS Monitor quoted a young Las Vegas resident who said "It's my future… What I really don't understand is why there aren't more young people here because ... we are the ones who are going to have to live with the problems of the future." The test of this new generation is not about who will take blame for the failures of the past; but who will accept responsibility for our future. That is how, we as a people as a nation… it is the only way we can move forward.

No comments: