Guest editorial…Tribute to a titan of public service

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(New York, N.Y.)—From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.—Luke 12:48

The above scripture was often quoted by Sen. Robert F. Kennedy to his children, to underscore that as a family of privilege, power and fortune, they had a higher obligation to do more to serve humanity than those of lesser means and influence. Indeed, few American families have been entrusted with more or had more demanded of them than the Kennedy family.

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In the case of Robert Kennedy and his brother, President John F. Kennedy, the demands of public service cost them their very lives. Likewise, their youngest brother, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, also gave his all—except while his older brothers, including Joseph, killed in World War II, died for our country, he was ultimately blessed to live for it. Senator Kennedy picked up the torch of social justice for all Americans from his fallen brothers and ran a magnificent race, one that ended for him on Aug. 25, 2009.

Though I did not share the Kennedys’ upbringing of wealth and privilege, the gospel of “to whom much is given, much is required” is a fundamental value shared by the Graves family. My connection to the Kennedys traces back to my years as an aide to Robert Kennedy, an experience that shaped my own ambitions and helped put me on the path to launch Black Enterprise nearly 40 years ago. And though I ultimately chose to make my mark in business, not in politics, the causes and principles that Edward Kennedy devoted his life to —civil rights, racial equality, equal access to quality education, and health care are the principles I’ve always stood and fought for, as I continue to do today.

During a legislative career spanning five decades, Sen. Kennedy was a powerful, often irresistible, force for change in America. A gifted orator and revered Democratic Party statesman, Kennedy’s legendary effectiveness as a legislator was in large partly due to his ability to create alliances with his political opponents. With more than 15,000 Senate votes to his credit, it is impossible to summarize his legislative track record in the space of this column. Kennedy wrote more than 2,500 bills, 500 of which were passed into law. Among his most prominent legislation impacting lives every day are the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Kennedy stood for troops serving our nation in other countries and for improving the quality of life of Americans at home. Kennedy consistently voted against Supreme Court nominees who he saw as hostile toward civil rights, and was a leading voice for human rights, social justice and democracy throughout the world. In 2006, he earned deserved recognition from Time magazine as one of “America’s 10 Best Senators.” Edward Kennedy can also claim the election of America’s first Black president, Barack Obama, as part of his vast political legacy.

While the Kennedy political dynasty may have come to an end with Edward Kennedy’s death, the Kennedys’ legacy of public service—the “family business” according to his niece and brother Robert’s oldest child, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend—is as strong as ever. Townsend, who as a former lieutenant governor of Maryland created statewide character education and student service programs, established the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and is now the chair of the Institute of Human Virology, which treats AIDS. Her sister Kerry, who I spoke to shortly after their uncle’s passing, is an international human rights activist. Their brother Joe II is founder and chairman of Citizens Energy, which makes heating oil affordable for the poor. Edward Kennedy’s son Patrick is a Rhode Island congressman who advocates on mental health issues. Their cousin Caroline, the daughter of John F. Kennedy, is the author of books on civil liberties and has raised money for New York City schools. Despite their patriarch’s death, the Kennedy family business lives on, as does the legacy of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, whose work will positively impact the lives of millions of Americans for generations to come.

(Earl G. Graves, Sr. is the founder and publisher of BLACK ENTERPRISE magazine.)

(Reprinted from the Afro American.)

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