and his sons at a Roxbury school in 1980.
I am a child of the civil rights movement of the sixties. Therefore, I cried when I heard Senator Edward Kennedy had died because he was one of the most dedicated allies we had.
In its remembrance of Senator Kennedy, the Boston Globe wrote:
Kennedy was a chief sponsor of voting rights legislation, and in 1980, worked to establish a national holiday for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In keeping with his family legacy, he continued to pursue key civil rights legislation throughout his career ."
I cried for Senator Kennedy, but I also cried for myself, my son, my nieces and nephews, my siblings, and for everyone who understand the breadth and depth of changes he brought about.
The civil rights community does not have a replacement for him.
Senator Kennedy's rare qualities of optimism, empathy, and hard work were what set him apart from others. I think this is what enabled him to never get more than one step away from the suffering of humankind. He turned his personal pain into a commitment to help those who, because of their powerlessness, could not advocate as effectively for themselves and whom other politicians shunned: minorities, the disabled, immigrants and women. Senator Kennedy was that powerful ally who understood our needs and felt, like the perennial optimist, that there was always sunshine ahead if only he fought a little harder.
My tears were also shed for the finality of a period in American history that we are unlikely to see again. Senator Kennedy's era, and our own, was defined by a deep concern for empowering people to vote for the first time, to run for political office, to use public accommodations without regard for race, Headstart and Job Corp for the kids and Medicare for the elderly, ramps for the handicapped, special education, unemployment insurance, expanded Social Security benefits, child health care, student loans, and much much more.
Senator Kennedy believed that health care is a fundamental right for all citizens and not just for those who can afford it. My era and his was also bracketed by the sit-in's, marches, pickets, and yes, the murders of civil rights workers and ordinary citizens alike. While his brother, President John F. Kennedy, advocated for civil rights because of political expediency, Teddy believed in the equal value of all women, men and children.
His optimism, empathy and dedication made him a marathon runner, and not a sprinter. That is why his passion to fight for the little people continued until his death. Undeterred by those hostile forces who say they "want their country back," he realized that the society he helped to shape for almost half a century is more just for those very immigrants, blacks, Hispanics, and others who make up the society they now want back. The tidal wave of reforms he led has made it better for everyone, including the "haters" who want to return to some imaginary idyllic time --translated before we elected a black president.
I wish the sixties could have existed forever, but Teddy showed us that the struggle for human dignity is a marathon that cuts across decades and generations. It is not for the weary or the faint of heart. He left us with a road map on how to continue his work. It is up to us to follow it by making health care reform with a public option a reality for starters.