By Russell Simmons and Dr. Benjamin Chavis -- January 20, 2011
People throughout the world were blessed by the devoted service and outstanding commitment of Robert Sargent Shriver Jr. (1915-2011). The Kennedy and Shriver families have given so much to make the world in which we live a better place, it is a challenge to put into simple words what will express our profound respect and gratitude for the life-long impact of Sargent Shriver. He progressively touched and transformed the lives of millions of people in the United States and across the globe.
As the leader, architect and visionary for the Peace Corps and the War on Poverty, Sargent Shriver more than anyone knew the importance of striving to eliminate poverty not only in America, but in every village, city and nation. Shriver advanced the principle that establishing and maintaining peace in the world is inextricably linked to justice, equality and fairness to all people without limitation to race, class, gender, ethnicity, religion, ideology, sexual orientation, language or creed.
It is very important, in particular for young people, to know and affirm that social transformation in any society is contingent often on the activism and voices of those who cry out for justice and peace. Sargent Shriver believed in power of youth social action and giving back to the community. In fact, ten years ago when we established the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, our theme was and remains "Taking back responsibility." We were inspired by the good work of the generation before led by visionaries like Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Fannie Lou Hammer and Sargent Shriver. These leaders knew that peace is not just the absence of war, but it is the presence of justice.
Today, we should rededicate ourselves to the universal principles of freedom, justice, equality and peace. The truth is there are more reasons today to re-launch the War on Poverty. Millions of Americans, and hundreds of millions more throughout the world are still suffering from abject poverty and misery. Even during this period of relative economic recovery, the plight of the poor and the impoverished hardly get any mention in the national and global debate.
It appears that as the pre-2012 national election season emerges on the political horizon in the United States, there are strong reactionary winds blowing within our society to take big steps backward from ending poverty, full health care coverage for all, environmental justice, immigration reform, racial and ethnic tolerance, high quality equal education, prison and criminal justice reform, full employment, financial literacy and grassroots economic empowerment. Shriver was proud of the face that in 2008, America witnessed the largest youth voter turnout in U.S. history.
One tangible tribute to Sargent Shriver will be for all of us to make 2011 the year of urgent preparation to make sure that our nation does not take societal and political steps backwards to a time when our country was less caring about the poor and marginalized. We will have to encourage young people and others who care to speak out again and take action to move our nation forward.
The hip-pop generation motivates aspirations to a higher standard of life and consciousness. We have got work to do. Sargent Shriver said it best when he said, "The way out of poverty was through human effort. People had to have motivation to move out of poverty." Those words are still true now. Let's show our gratitude to the living legacy of Sargent Shriver by motivating and organizing millions of new young people to register to vote and to take back responsibility in our communities to push forward for more justice and more peace. Let's continue to "change" America. Let's strive and mobilize anew to end poverty.