Below, Al Kurland of the Police Athletic League reflects on the lessons we can learn from President John F. Kennedy about civic engagement and leadership in our communities. Al generously offered to share his reflections on the Generation Citizen citizen blog after collaborating with NYC Site Director, Sarah Andes, on a gathering to promote participation in our democracy at the PAL Edward Byrne Center in South Jamaica, Queens.
“On November 22, 1963, a bullet fired by an uninspired lonely lunatic tore through our President, our inspirational leader. A painful wound, made only faintly endurable through numbness, grief, and disbelief, tore through the hearts of every American, young and old, recently arrived and decendents of our founding fathers. In my case, and for my classmates in JHS 164Q, after receiving the news of our great leader being shot, we were dismissed, only to return to our homes with our grieving families. In most cases such trauma induces a forgetfulness and fog, but the tragedy of our loss, the loss of JFK, has also facilitated a remembrance, both of his promising idealistic presence,and of our duty, all of us sharing in this duty, to “ ask not what our country can do for us, but rather, what we can do for our country.” Today, while this wound endures, the actions of those inspired enough to actualize President Kennedy’s charge, facilitate a healing to our country, to our city, to our communities.
The courage and healing action of civic actors abound in many corners, in quiet enclaves of potential and planning for an impactful civic project, as well as on the streets hosting marches and rallies in support of social justice. These actions facilitate a communal wholeness where divisiveness remains, and is yet promoted by the few who have fallen prey to that tragic falling into the “downward spiral of fear and hatred”. These actions not only promote a road to Democracy, but represent the essence of Democracy, for participation, universal inclusion and empathetic listening are Democracy.
Last night, on the eve of the 50th anniversary marking our tragic loss, I sat in a library at the PAL Edward Byrne Center in South Jamaica, Queens. Engaged also were a determined group of 12 high school students, some from the PAL IN STEP program, and some from the Rockaway Youth Task Force. Co-facilating was a young adult leader from Generation Citizen, an organization which promotes and trains the young to engage in the civic contribution our late President so fervently believed in. Chaperoning and holding open the door to opportunity was another young adult leader from the PAL Center Operations unit. Their task, the charge put on these st udents, was to develop and organize a campaign to foster meaningful participation in their communities. One which would include the right to express voice, and cast votes at their own local community boards. Some engaged with flowing confidence, and others with some hesitation and doubt, but they all engaged, and pledged to move the proposition of inclusive participation to a fruitful closure. Inspired by the words of then Senator Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic Convention, they totally got it, that talented and inspired people, united in cause and purpose, can make a difference.
We, the older adults in our communities, can make a choice. We can respond to the cynical echoes of voices which pardoned the existence of a “double consciousness,” where a few elitists make choices for the majority of us who are looked down upon and pitied. We can continue the paternalistic practices which reduce the excluded amongst us to “parodies and playthings.” Or, we can respond with the courage called for by JFK, and exemplified by mentoring leadership exhibited in youth/civic organizations, to open the door, and extend an invitation to the young, to gain a seat at the table. In a democracy, universal participation is what makes Democracy whole. And so, the healing continues.”
– Al Kurland, Police Athletic League, Inc.
Generation Citizen is a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 tax exempt organization which does not endorse candidates; our goal is to engage our staff, participants, and stakeholders in political and civic action on issues that matter to them personally and in their communities. The opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the writer alone and do not reflect the opinions of Generation Citizen.