Our Quote of the Week comes from a commencement speech that Sargent Shriver made in 1964, during the nascent months of the War on Poverty and the height of the Peace Corps.
In his speech, Sargent Shriver acknowledges the scale of the challenges set before him to bring 30 million Americans out of poverty and to simultaneously promote world peace. He also points out that it was a challenge he wasn’t facing alone. Sarge mentions the “heroes” of his time, including President Kennedy, Pope John XXIII, and Medgar Evans, whose actions inspired global movements toward justice. Sarge also includes Peace Corps volunteers and social activists among the "heroes" — ordinary people who partner with their communities to stem floods, establish justice systems, or teach a new generation. Sarge recognizes that heroes — history makers — aren't necessarily ambitious people, but rather people who are brave and steadfast in the pursuit of justice and who call on others to join them in service.
Many things have changed since Sargent Shriver spoke these words, but they are still applicable today. In some ways, it’s easier than ever to sit and watch history unfold in 2019. In addition to TV, we have the internet, cellphones, and other devices that provide a constant stream of news media that keeps us up-to-date. Today we can also feel like we're participating in history by engaging in online debates over social media. Indeed, platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have made it easier to amplify marginalized voices, share information, and hold leaders accountable. In a real way, these platforms provide a level of engagement that people did not have in the past. However, it's important to remember that lending a voice to a cause is only one part of the work that we can do. There is a difference between “speaking out” from behind a screen, and engaging with people around the issues of poverty, conflict, and social justice "IRL" (in real life). What makes someone a "history maker," according to Sargent Shriver, goes beyond words. A history maker engages face to face wherever they plan to serve, facilitating action through interpersonal connection.
Let us not be doubtful of or cynical about the influence we can have on our world. There are simple actions we can all take to engage with others and to be of service. We can volunteer, we can organize, we can lend support and show solidarity with our bodies, voices, hearts, and minds. If we all commit to being present in our communities in order to empower its members as much as we can, we have great potential to shape the course of history.
Like this quote? Read the speech and subscribe to receive our Quote of the Week by email.