On November 22, 1963, the assassination of President Kennedy helped to define a generation of baby boomers. I can still remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the news was announced. I remember having to take the announcement of the assassination from classroom to classroom on my small high school campus, because I happened to be the person in the office at the time. I remember the looks on the faces of the teachers as they read the announcement first to themselves and then to a classroom of students. I remember one teacher in particular, who read the announcement to himself, handed me back the paper, and walked out of the door, leaving me to share the sad news with a classroom full of peers. Students were dismissed from school and a nation watched the unfolding of events on television for the next several days. It was all that we could talk about. The mystique of Camelot has developed since, but at the time it seemed that hope and promise were somehow made victims of a sniper’s bullet.
In 1963, the Civil Rights Movement was just coming into its own, and we will never know what affect the Kennedy Assassination had on those events. Would events have occurred in the same way or was the timeline accelerated or slowed because of it? Where would we be as a nation had this single event not occurred? Certainly we kept Kennedy’s promise to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade, but what other promises would have been made and consequently kept had he lived? While there is no answer to those questions, as we cannot have a retake on history, we are faced with similar challenges in 2010 as a result of the achievement gap. We are faced with deciding whether or not we will become a nation that embodies the words of the Pledge of Allegiance which state, “with liberty and justice for all”.
For me, the decision is “yes”, and the work of public education and after-school programs is to ensure that social justice is a reality for all students. We must take seriously this new civil rights issue and refuse to rest until the achievement gap is closed and every youth is able to reach his or her amazing potential. We can accomplish these results. If you look back over the course of history, many of the accomplishments of men have had an equal or larger number of skeptics boasting that it will never work. If we are dedicated to “liberty and justice for all”, we must also find strength in the words of Margaret Mead,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”