Our Quote of the Week is emblematic of the fundamental principles behind the War on Poverty: that all of us are equally deserving of dignity and justice, all of us have the right to be empowered and to fully participate as citizens in our society – all while living life on our own terms.
Sargent Shriver spoke these words during his Statement at VISTA Associates Press Conference in 1966. He points out that the aim of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA, now known as Americorps VISTA) as well as other youth programs like Upward Bound and Job Corps, are to expand opportunity and service in diverse communities all around the country, while allowing individuals to preserve their distinct cultures, traditions, and even languages. Shriver says:
“What we are trying to do is to help 35,000 Americans who have been spectators to become participants and share more of the good things of life.”
Shriver stresses that to participate in society does not mean conforming to a “white, middle class mold”. Indeed, Shriver insists that fully participating in society in no way makes demands on one’s identity, imposes “no middle class burden, no imperialism of any kind: of class, or race, or nationality, or geography”. In Shriver’s vision, while we all deserve a life of dignity and opportunity that allows us to participate fully in society, we can each do so on our own terms, with no expectation that we must change the fundamentals of who we are.
It's notable that Sargent Shriver upheld the importance of dignity, opportunity, citizenship, and justice for all persons throughout his career. From his work in education and civil rights in Chicago in the 1950s to his leadership in the Peace Corps and the War on Poverty in the 1960s, these ideals shaped his career choices and defined the institutions he built. They are rooted Shriver’s spirituality and sense of social justice, and they continue to make his ideals and his work relevant for us today.
Let us envision a world in which all of us can be our true selves while fully participating in a just society, and let us join forces to make that world a reality.