Address at the National Conference of Christians and Jews Annual Brotherhood Dinner

Washington, DC | February 24, 1966

That's why we need all of you -- from the entire Metropolitan community - in the War Against Poverty -- a new crusade for brotherhood. Then when people ask you what do you do? You will not say only "I am a doctor," or businessman, or housewife. You will have a new answer. You will say: "I am a community worker." And when people say, what is your community? You will not say "Bethesda"or Silver Spring." You will say: "My community is the community of man."

Back in 1928, with the campaign of Al Smith, there began what might be called a brotherhood revolution -- a revolution which started with the creation of this organization. The first phase of that revolution is now over. John F. Kennedy's victory in 1960 brought to a close the process begun by Al Smith's defeat.

It signaled the end of a time when Brotherhood Week could be observed simply by congratulating ourselves for not being bigots.

The old-style brotherhood which originated to protect the minority rights of Catholics and Jews is now a majority creed. But we now have new minority groups -- and they don't fit the 1928 mold. This came home to me with a shock just a few months ago. I was reviewing the statistics, showing the minority group membership on local antipoverty boards. Jews were not among those listed, and neither were Catholics.

I asked a young man at our office why Jewish members were omitted from this analysis of minority representation whereas Negroes, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans were listed. Without a moment's hesitation he said: "Why should they be? Jews are not a minority people!"

The matter-of-fact manner of his reply reveals a great achievement wrought since 1928 in this country -- and it proves that the National Conference of Christians and Jews has fulfilled the first objective or which it was founded: Jews and Catholics have become parts of the majority, part of the mainstream of American life.

Religious prejudice is not gone -- not by a long shot. But it has ceased to stand as the foremost (burning) moral issue of the day.

It is no longer revolutionary to say: Jews, Catholics, Protestants all accept one another as part of the brotherhood of man.

Yet, there are many whom we do not treat as brothers.

The Puerto Rican from East Harlem, the poor white from Appalachia, the mentally retarded child vegetating in an institution, the Negro who just came to Washington from West Virginia or South Carolina. Do we treat them as brothers? Or are they a class apart? Different? We call them a "sub culture." That fancy phrase sounds respectable and scientific -- not bigoted. But it is.

It's a way of saying: He's different. He's not one of us. And then we conclude we don't have to treat him as one of us. That's his fault -- not ours.

We forget that it is we -- not the other person -- who decide to make these differences in language, color, background important!

We have new and respectable ways to do this.

We don't call ourselves Protestants, or Catholics, or Jews --or white or rich -- any more. Those aren't fashionable ways to exclude people, nowadays.

Instead we say we're bankers, or lawyers, doctors or businessmen.

There's nothing wrong with that. And it just so happens that no Negroes or Puerto Ricans or Mexicans work in my business, or practice in my hospital, or borrow money from my bank.

Or, we call "our community" Chevy Chase, or Silver Spring or Bethesda, and there's nothing wrong with that. As the saying goes:

"Some of my best friends live in my suburb" and it just happens that we don't ever see Negroes, socially -- except at brotherhood dinners.

We use our professions, and our places of residence, as ways of limiting our moral responsibility. We use them to turn our back on our brothers. And that is wrong.

Because we're not businessmen first, or lawyers first, or bankers, or doctors first -- first of all, we're human beings.

And our community is not just Silver Spring, or Chevy Chase, or Bethesda. Our community is the entire Washington Metropolitan Area. Our community is the United States. Our community is the world -- and a troubled world at that.

And we can't run from that larger identity without sooner or later paying the price.

It's like water pollution or air pollution. An industrial society dumps waste products into clean waters. Maybe we can get along ignoring the waste and the refuse of industry, for a while, but sooner or later it catches up -- in our streams and our lakes. And it catches up on human beings too - in welfare costs, in delinquency, in unemployment.

The poor know this: -

"My husband didn't have no education. If my children could read, they could get a job driving a truck or working in a store. They could learn to use the cash register if they know how to add. They can be somebody. If you don't have no education, you have to take the first thing they give you ... I want (my children) to do something better."

We're all suffering more from social pollution than air or water pollution. But the breakthrough is coming. The educators and social workers and psychologists and lawyers are trying to stop using their professional identity to screen out problems.

Last week the National Institute for Mental Health came out with a study to demonstrate that highly-trained professionals can listen to the poor and understand their problems, just as well as ordinary human beings. The social workers didn't say, "That's not my department; go to somebody else." Instead they listened and they heard statements like this:

"There was no food in the house and I didn't want them to go to school hungry and then come home hungry too. I felt that if I kept them at home with me, at least when they cried and asked for a piece of bread, I would be with them and put my arms around them."

And after listening, the social workers came to the conclusion that the poor are not "a culture apart" from other Americans. In the words of one newspaper account:

"The report says it is not the poor's values that are different, but their problems. The report strikes hard at what it calls new stereotypes about the poor: That poor fathers are quick to leave their families; that the poor are promiscuous and attach no stigma to illegitimacy; that they neglect their children and care nothing about their children's education; that Negro families are basically weak because of their slavery background."

America is beginning to listen to statements like that. Social welfare agencies and different professions have stopped passing the buck. Soon we may stop hearing about cases like this one from New Haven, Conn.:

A particular man had been laid off from a low-paying, unskilled job; a, finance company was pressing him to continue payments on a new TV set which had never worked; his wife and he quarreled constantly over money problems; his oldest child had just been charged with stealing from the collection plate in church; and the entire family was faced with eviction from a public housing project because their income was too low.

That man needed a lawyer, a social worker, and a homemaker. He needed job training, and marriage counseling, and help in budgeting his finances. He tried to get that help. But he didn't know where to start. He went to the Legal Aid Agency, but was told they didn't do marriage counseling, didn't handle separations, didn't represent juveniles and couldn't do anything about getting his TV set fixed. He went to the employment service which provided him only with occasional day work. He took a test to qualify for a draftsman training course, but heard nothing after he finished the examination.

Finally, he was desperate, penniless, and almost hopeless. So he robbed a pawnshop just to get arrested, so his family could qualify for public assistance. He got help then -- in the form of a defense attorney. The lawyer got all the facts and in doing so, discovered, that his client had scored the highest marks in the city on the aptitude test for the draftsman training course.

Then -- it took all the lawyer's skill to get the judge to suspend sentence so the man could start the job training he had 'wanted to begin six months earlier.

The moral of this story is this: It shouldn't take a crime to get society to help. No one shouldn't have to risk five years in jail in order to feed his children. That's not what we mean by brotherhood.

The new brotherhood -- the Post-1960 Brotherhood -- calls for people to act as human beings first, to listen as human beings, to sympathize as human beings and only later begin to apply their professional skills.

The new brotherhood reaches across professions. It listens to humanity - to the voices of the poor -- to voices like this 15-year old boy in Boston, discovered by a Harvard student who was not content just to be a student. He wanted to help too, and so he did some tutoring – and this is what one of his students taught him:

"My father, he tried, and he tried. My mother, she tried too. My father, he would put his head on the kitchen table and he would cry, all six foot three of him would cry; and my mother would tell him to stop, and say it wasn't his fault; and we would stay alive somehow. But my brothers and I, we knew she wasn't so sure. She tried to make it easy for us by living but we know."

We need every one of you in this audience -- to listen to voices like that and to use your skills on behalf of the poor. Please don't say: "I haven't any skills."

How many of you are employers? When you close up shop for the night, have you done your share? Do you say: I have contributed to the gross national product, I have paid my taxes -- and now I can go home. But the employment problem in this city, and in this country, won't be licked until everyone of you makes an extra effort to develop jobs.

There are 30,000 unemployed in this city tonight. There are youngsters graduating from Job Corps centers who will be needing jobs. And right now there are no jobs, even for the youngsters who want to try, or for the fathers who want to support their families. Last year, over 12,000 people came to the United Planning Organization looking for employment. But U.P.O. could place only 2,000 of them and only 780 of those 2,000 were direct placements. The rest of the placements were really positions in our, new programs; the Neighborhood Youth Corps and Job Corps. We need you to look at your own business, at your own office or law practice, and say, "where could I use help to ease the burden on highly skilled workers and. professional staff?" You can profit and so can the poor. The government will, in effect, pay you during the training period for that worker's inefficiency and lack of skill. It will pay for supervision, for transportation and for breakage, as part of the training program. Here in the District of Columbia, they have trained chefs and automobile mechanics, air conditioning repairmen, large and small appliance repairmen, truck drivers and construction workers. For months, now, the U.P.O. has had the dollars to pay you, the employer, the cost of on-the-job training for over 375 men and women. But employers aren't coming forward to offer positions. We want brotherhood only after business hours.

How many of you in this room are doctors? When you left your office today -- on "K" Street, or "18th and I" Streets, and turned off the equipment, which cost you thousands and thousands of dollars, did you look at the empty waiting room and say, "Well, I've taken care of all my patients today " You haven't, not by a long shot. We need you in neighborhood health centers, in Head Start centers, in clinics. It doesn't take a fancy office and waiting room to dress a wound or ask a 4-year old to open his mouth and say "A-H-H-H."

There are some of you who say: "I'm just a businessman. What can I do?'!

There's plenty you can do. Go to 1719 14th Street, N.W., or 2840 Alabama Avenue, S.E. or 704 51st Street, N.E. You'll find a new kind of loan office. It's called the Small Business Development Center. They give loans to low-income persons who want to be entrepreneurs - who have the motivation and the skills, who have an idea of what kind of business they want to set up -- but who can't get the capital. Maybe they can't get it because they don't have the collateral. Maybe they can't get it because they're Negro and, therefore, considered automatically bad risks. We're giving loans to people like that to start businesses. But those people need advice, they need your know-how – how to keep books, on how to merchandise and advertise, how to get customers, how to supervise employees -- and hundreds of other techniques you use automatically -- like a sixth sense.

The beginner in business needs your help and advice to make free enterprise work for him instead of against him.

And there are other things businessmen can do.

U.P.O. could arrange for school children and children in Head Start programs to visit your place of business, and explore, and learn during a slack time in your business day. The places your goods come from, the manufacturing processes involved, the chemicals and ingredients used, the quantities ordered, the prices, the advertising and display techniques. These experiences would make art, geography, science, nutrition, home economics and math come alive for these underprivileged children.

Or how about the lawyers in the audience. Have you been reading the series of exciting stories in the Washington Post? These articles describe how lawyers working in poor neighborhoods have prevented evictions, gotten kids back in school who had been expelled, prevented appliances and cars from being repossessed, forced merchants to live up to warranties on defective goods, demonstrated to the Welfare Department that they were wrong in cutting off welfare payments. Maybe those victories are "peanuts" compared with the latest S.L.C. case or anti-trust case you handled. But they're not peanuts to the people involved. And there's no way in the world that all those cases can be handled by the handful of neighborhood lawyers now working in this Demonstration Program. For justice to work, it will take every lawyer in this room donating time and energy. More money to Legal Aid won’t do it.

And what about all the doting grandmothers in this room -- we need you to sit and rock babies. -- To give affection and attention to the hundreds of children who are turning into, vegetables at Junior Village. 

We have a new program called "Foster Grandparents". It offers jobs for the elderly poor in children's homes and orphanages. But you don't need to be poor to give love and affection! U.P.O. is experimenting with special "group foster homes". They need volunteers -grandmothers and parents -- to help give love and affection, continuity and warmth, to these children. Most of these children, incidentally, are not in Junior Village because they have committed an offense! They are there because their family has been evicted, or because the father could not find a good-enough job to make ends meet.

And we need every mother in this room to help tutor high school students this summer who want to go on to college. We call this new program "Upward Bound" and it will enroll 200 high school students at Howard University for an 8-week summer training course.

This is Brotherhood 1965 style. And it's the only way we will beat poverty.

Every single one of you can enlist in this War on Poverty. The address: The United Planning Organization, 1100 Vermont Avenue, Room 606. The man to see: William Grinker, Director of Education, Housing and Community Services for U.P.O. His phone number: 659-1100. You are needed not just in tutoring, or in pre-school, or in small business programs. You are needed in a crash program we call "Medicare Alert" to tell people to sign up for the Medicare Program before the deadline passes. You are needed to help people who have been evicted in finding housing, so that their children won't have to be sent to Junior Village. You are needed to help people get emergency aid -- food and jobs and clothing and cash to tide them over that emergency period. You are needed in a program called "Wider Horizons" which takes junior-high school kids to museums and plays and gives them a chance to see all this city has to offer. You are needed to help find jobs, to buttonhole employers and friends and ask their: "Can't you do something to provide a man with a day's pay for a day's work?"

This is the Post-1960 Brotherhood -- the new brotherhood takes more than piety or pity -- it takes commitment and it takes service.

This is the type of brotherhood urged by Rabbi Shelomo of Karlin two centuries ago:

"If you want to raise a man from mud and filth do not think it is enough to keep standing on top, and reaching a helping hand down to him. You must go all the way down yourself, down into the mud and filth. Then take hold of him with strong hands, and pall him and yourself out into the light."

We saw that exhortation taken to heart literally and put into practice.

Recently by Peace Corps Volunteers in the Dominican Republic, when during the fighting, the words Cuerpo de Paz -- Peace Corps – spoken by any volunteer opened any military barrier.

One volunteer found out why when he was in rebel territory, he heard one of them remark: “El maliditos Americanos (those very bad Americans). So he asked them -- "What are you talking about? I'm an American."

And the answer he got was:

"We don't mean you. You're different. You live with us. When we're hungry -- you're hungry. When we walk through the mud -- you walk through the mud."

That's the new brotherhood! Last summer we saw what happens when a different spirit prevails. I will never forget the words blazoned on that newspaper headline last August! -- "We're on top, they're on the bottom!"

In those nine words, Los Angeles Police Chief, William Parker, exposed the mentality that has turned a sprawling metropolis into "occupied territory" with the poor as the enemy.

You and I both know the cost of that dichotomy between "we" -- the all- powerful middle class -- and "they," the poor and the helpless.

Right here in Washington, the National Conference of Christians and Jews have sponsored special training courses and scholarships in community relations work for police officers. That's promoting real brotherhood. That's eliminating the "we against they" mentality.

We're not going to get rid of these problems by running from them. Nor can we bulldoze them out of existence. Those who put their faith in buildings, in slum clearance, in externals, are wrong. As the Director of Redevelopment in San Francisco put it:

"To bear architects and designers talk, you would think they have all the answers. They think all urban pressures can be solved by architecture and city design. In Watts, the problem wasn't architecture."

The only solution is in brotherhood, brotherhood based on a sense of community, and a sense of community based upon individual commitment, total involvement. To draw back from such a commitment is not a neutral act or amoral act -- it is an immoral act. As a famous commentary in the Bible states:

"If a man says, what have I to do with the concerns of the community? What have I to do with their conflicts. What have I to do with their talk? ... Such a man destroys the world."

Commitment and community -- That is the core of the new brotherhood.

Right here in Washington, we're making a start on this kind of brotherhood. There is only one other community Action Program in the country that has reached across state lines the way UPO has into Maryland and Virginia. That's creating a sense of brotherhood for the entire Metropolitan Area -- A brotherhood that's unique.

That's why we need all of you -- from the entire Metropolitan community - in the War Against Poverty -- a new crusade for brotherhood. Then when people ask you what do you do? You will not say only "I am a doctor," or businessman, or housewife. You will have a new answer. You will say: "I am a community worker."

And when people say, what is your community? You will not say "Bethesda"or Silver Spring." You will say: "My community is the community of man."

Artists have a special gift of sensitivity -- almost of prophecy. And the great poet, T. S. Elliot, put the challenge of brotherhood this way:

"And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbor
Unless his neighbour makes too much disturbance
But all dash to and fro in motor cars,
Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.
Nor does the family even move about together,
But every son would have his motor cycle
And daughters ride away on casual pillions."

"Though you have shelters and institutions,
Precarious lodgings while the rent is paid,
Subsiding basements where the rat breeds
Or sanitary dwellings with numbered doors

"Or a house a little better than your neighbours'
When the stranger says: What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love one another?
What will you answer? "We all dwell together
To make money from each other?" Or "This is a community."

Can you answer, "This is a community and I am part of it"? That is what brotherhood means -- and that's what the War on Poverty is all about.