I am, for the first time in my life, in South Dakota, traveling by car from the East Coast to the West Coast. I borrowed a book on tape for the trip: “The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America.” I’ve just come through Indiana, where RFK entered, and won – against so many odds – his first primary. The book details RFK’s presidential campaign journey through to his most significant primary wins, which happened on the same night in California and South Dakota.
I was too young to know about all this and so much more that was happening at the time. What is most striking about the story is not the politics, but the purpose of RFK’s campaign – spotlighting at every chance – the plight of poor children and families in America. A decade later, my own coming of age was fed by Michael Harrington’s, “The Other America,” Jonathan Kozol’s “Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools,” and Janet Fitchen’s “Poverty in Rural America.”
However, somewhere along the way, I feel as though my attention shifted away from the reality that there are still millions of children and families in American who are hungry – for food; for shelter; for protection; for literacy; for our steady and compassionate attention.
There have been too many distractions over too long a span to place a finger on where and when the blinders went on – welfare reform, 9/11, the boom and bust economy; bombardment by email, cell phones, Blackberries, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Where did it begin and where will it end?
There are stories in the book about two days that RFK spent in South Dakota – most significantly at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and other accounts about meeting children in the Mississippi delta. Children were dying from poverty in both places, and countless others – one child died the day he was at Pine Ridge. Today, racing down I-90, forty years after RFK’s visit to Pine Ridge, I kept working through my mind, over and over, whether we could possibly still have that kind of poverty here and other places in America. Having organized hunger relief initiatives, and now literacy projects for over twenty years, I am hardly naive, but have admittedly lost my way.
The truth was revealed by a few thumb clicks on my Blackberry. I learned that places in America that breed desperation and despair are not without serious strife and controversy – that would be too much to expect. I should have known, but also learned today that the children and families who live in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation still face desperate poverty and an overwhelming array of afflictions.
So, what can we do? We can and will redouble our efforts to shine a bright spotlight on literacy needs in communities like this and to inspire champions like you to give undivided, compassionate attention to millions of children and families hungry to enjoy reading. If the enormity of the challenge gives us pause, we will persevere together – we will not be guided or dissuaded by the politics of the past or present, but by a purpose for the future – we will make a difference one child, one family, one magazine at a time. Thank you for your support.