Seeing wrong and trying to right it

My InsideTrack conversation with Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, on October 6 takes place during the TECHO, Univision Poverty Awareness Week campaign, proudly co-hosted by Pace University. These events once again highlight the University’s role as a center of discussion and debate on the critical public policy issues of our time. As I prepare for these events, I can’t help but remember the day a photograph I was in made the front page of the New York Times—all courtesy of Senator Robert Kennedy, the war on poverty, and a five-year old who answered a knock on his door.

In 1966, Senator Kennedy traveled across America to highlight the needs of the poor in places like Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, migrant farming camps, and urban environments. On a winter day in February 1966, Senator Kennedy came to Brooklyn. He famously toured Bedford-Stuyvesant on foot—accompanied by hundreds of community leaders, the press, and yours truly, a young lawyer who had recently returned from two years working in Washington after law school.

Many of the community leaders were wary of another “tour” by a politician, but Senator Kennedy won them over with his good intentions and new legislation that provided substantial funding for a new project. He saw it all that day—burned out buildings, vacant lots covered with garbage, and abandoned cars rusting on the streets. The area looked like a war zone. Then Senator Kennedy knocked on a door at 733 Gates Avenue. A young child opened it. He looked up to see a stranger towering over him and a crowd of people behind the stranger. As you can see I am off to the side. That’s when the New York Times photographer snapped the picture. Here it is:

Friedman and Kennedy crop

Senator Kennedy’s experience in Brooklyn motivated him to introduce a national model for community development. The model’s goal was to improve living conditions and employment opportunities in depressed areas. The nation’s first community-development nonprofit was the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in Brooklyn. As a volunteer in Senator Kennedy’s office, I did the legal work to create and organize the new Corporation. The organization still exists today—fostering economic self-sufficiency; creating healthy, stable families; promoting the arts and culture; and transforming neighborhoods into safe, vibrant places to live, work, and visit.

I am thrilled to welcome Kerry Kennedy to InsideTrack. She has continued her father’s fight against poverty, and racial and social injustices. She has also devoted herself to a wide range of global issues including children’s rights, ethnic violence, women’s rights, and human trafficking. Please join us Tuesday, October 6, at 6:00 p.m. in the Schimmel Theater for a conversation about issues that we still need to address. We can all make a difference.