Last November — the day after his re-election — an emotional President Obama thanked scores of young campaign workers.
He said, “I am absolutely confident that all of you are going to do just amazing things in your lives. And what Bobby Kennedy called the ripples of hope that come out when you throw a stone in the lake — that’s going to be you.”
The “ripples of hope” phrase was significant. In 1966, a group of anti-apartheid students invited Senator Robert F. Kennedy to the University of Cape Town. To their amazement, he accepted.
In perhaps his most famous speech, Kennedy said:
Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events….
Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
In August 2011, PBS aired “RFK in the Land of Apartheid: Ripples of Hope.” It was produced and directed by Westonite Larry Shore, a film and media studies professor at Hunter College.
The film’s outreach director, John Suggs, lives — and serves on the RTM — in Westport.
The film tells the story of Senator Kennedy’s influential visit to South Africa. It also explores the role of individual South Africans who challenged the oppression and made a commitment to change.
It’s been shown all over the world — including the JFK Presidential Library in Boston; Washington, DC for dignitaries including Ethel Kennedy; the UN’s Geneva office, and throughout South Africa.
Today it’s in the news again. Because — once again — President Obama cited RFK’s impassioned plea.
Yesterday, in Cape Town, the president stood in the exact same spot where Kennedy spoke 47 years ago. He delivered the words as firmly and passionately as RFK had.
Much has changed in the decades since. Nelson Mandela — 4 years into his 27-year prison sentence in 1966 — has been freed, won the Nobel Peace Prize, served as South Africa’s president, and now lies on his deathbed.
Like Mandela, Barack Obama has been elected as his nation’s 1st black president.
Still, there is work to be done. As President Obama reminds the world, Robert Kennedy’s words are as relevant as ever.
Today, the world remembers both Mandela and Kennedy. And — thanks to John Suggs and Larry Shore’s film — they have a deeply affecting way of doing so.
(Click here for 2 stories on the speech and film: Northeast Public Radio; Africa’s Mail & Guardian. Also of interest: John and Larry are hard at work — and seeking funding — on a new film, chronicling Sen. Edward Kennedy’s picking up the US anti-apartheid banner after the death of his brother.)