Upon accepting the Jefferson Award for public service
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
For those who asked, here are excerpts from my remarks at the Jefferson Awards last night:
Thank you so much. I want to accept this award on behalf of my colleagues at Share Our Strength and Community Wealth Ventures, and on behalf of my wife Rosemary who is such a great partner and support, and my sister Debbie who started Share Our Strength with me. Share Our Strength would have been created with or without Debbie but it would not have lasted more than two weeks if not for the dedication and passion she has brought to it every day for 27 years.
This award is obviously a great honor, but it is also potentially a great inconvenience. I say that because I started Share Our Strength in 1984 with a $2000 cash advance on a credit card and we’ve raised $315 million since, helping to fund literally thousands of organizations fighting hunger. And so after 27 years I had fantasies of slacking off a bit, but now comes this award and with it the need to be faithful to the proud legacy of the Jefferson Awards, and to the spirit and legacy of Sam Beard, so it is inconvenient in that sense. It is also inconvenient because it is one of those awards that says that if you are dedicating your life to public service – and this is a notion that has unfortunately gone out of fashion in Washington a long time ago – you should be prepared to give more than you get. Kind of perverse for an award – and very inconvenient – but that’s the genius of founder Sam Beard and that’s the genius of the Jefferson Awards.
But this award is not just inconvenient, it is also insistent. This bright shiny medallion comes with an insistence that if you have a voice, you be willing to project that voice on behalf of those whose voices are not heard. It comes with an insistence that in a country with 48 million people living below the poverty line, and 44 million Americans on food stamps, half of them being kids, that we do better than having our children go to bed hungry, wake up hungry, go to school hungry, and become part of an economy and society weakened by such neglect.
This award comes with an insistence that we maintain the urgency that led us to this work in the beginning, and not be haunted by the words of Martin Luther King who once said: “In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood, it ebbs.
And finally, this award comes with the insistence that we embrace the words of the poet Gwendolyn Brooks who though not talking directly about public service certainly could have been when she wrote:
We are each other’s harvest.
We are each other’s business.
We are each other’s magnitude.
It is in that spirit of inconvenience and insistence that I so proudly accept this award tonight.
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