Editorial: Robert Kennedy and his gift of hope

Posted6/4/2018 4:10 PM
  • This June 5, 1968 file photo shows Sen. Robert F. Kennedy speaking to supporters at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly before he was shot.

    This June 5, 1968 file photo shows Sen. Robert F. Kennedy speaking to supporters at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly before he was shot. AP Photo/Dick Strobel, File

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

Robert F. Kennedy spoke those words in what became known as his "Ripples of Hope" speech at the University of Cape Town in South Africa on June 6, 1966.

It was perhaps his greatest speech, delivered with singular courage in the depth of apartheid, so powerful a speech that many oppressed South Africans of that time named their children after him.

Ripples of hope.

Two years to the day, Bobby, as so many called him, succumbed in a Los Angeles hospital to an assassin's bullets fired at him mindlessly 50 years ago today shortly after he had clinched the 1968 Democratic presidential primary in California.

His assassination came two months after Martin Luther King Jr. was struck down, and less than five years after his brother President John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas. It presaged brutal riots less than three months later at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

To those old enough to bear witness to that time, it seemed the country had gone mad.

A half century is a long time. To many reading these words, Robert Kennedy is merely a name from history, the face in a black-and-white photo, a voice in a passing film clip. How quickly we pass into the ages.

To those old enough to bear witness to his time, Robert Kennedy was that ripple of hope of which he spoke.

He was a controversial figure, and no doubt the accusations of ambition, calculation and cunning leveled against him had at least some grain of truth. No person lives without flaws.

But Robert Kennedy was and remains an inspiration. Born into wealth and a sort of American royalty, his gift was his valor, and the vigor and stirring eloquence he brought to it.

He lived with a sense of service that was and is a call to our better angels.

A call to that ripple of hope.

He provided that. He was that.

Each of us, in our own way, can be that too.

"Few will have the greatness to bend history itself," Robert Kennedy observed in that same "Ripples of Hope" speech. "But each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation."

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