Alan Khazei’s Tribute to Senator Ted Kennedy

A letter from Be The Change’s Alan Khazei in tribute to Senator Kennedy who passed away Tuesday. Sign the Condolence Book for the Kennedy family.

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

Senator Kennedy at the Service America Act bill signing. Photo credits: Martin H. Simon-Pool/Getty ImagesOn behalf of ServiceNation, Be the Change and our extended community, I would like to express our profound sadness over the passing of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, as well as our deep appreciation for his life’s contribution and our most heartfelt sympathy to his extraordinary family.

Senator Kennedy is the true godfather of the service movement. Without his tireless commitment, this movement as it thrives today never would have come about. He indelibly changed the fabric of America by not just inspiring, but personally enabling millions of citizens to give their time and skills to improve their communities and country. Through his visionary and bipartisan leadership in authoring the National and Community Service Act of 1990, the legislation that created AmeriCorps in 1993, and most recently with his good friend Senator Orrin Hatch, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009, he created the infrastructure that empowers people all across our nation to put their energy and idealism to work addressing critical social needs.

I count among the greatest blessings of my life the opportunity to get to know, work closely with, be inspired by, and learn from Senator Kennedy. He was the greatest champion, friend and leader anyone could ever wish for. I will always remember his caring heart, strategic mind, bountiful laugh, and his unyielding dedication to the cause of social justice for all.

I have been blessed to have many special moments with Senator Kennedy and would like to share one of them. Michael Brown and I were so honored when Senator Kennedy agreed to be the graduation speaker for the first City Year corps of only 50 young people in 1990.

Senator Kennedy entered to rousing cheers from the hundreds of family members, supporters, volunteers and friends who had gathered for this big day in City Year’s young history. He quickly picked up on the energy in the room and enthusiastically joined the corps as they began their trademark PT exercises.

Senator Kennedy looked down at the speech his staff had prepared for him and you could see he had other ideas in mind. The topic was public service. He knew this like the back of his hand. Kennedy threw away the speech and spoke movingly from his heart. I remember his words like it was yesterday.

Senator Kennedy told the City Year corps members they stood in a long line of young people making change for the better. That it was young people who rode the freedom rides, sat in at lunch counters and marched and protested for civil rights. It was young people who answered President Kennedy’s call to Ask Not and signed up in droves to join the Peace Corps. It was young people who walked the snowy streets of New Hampshire to end the Vietnam War. It was young people who drove the women’s movement and the environmental movement fighting for equality and a healthy planet.

And now, it was young people once again, serving through City Year and other programs like it across Massachusetts and the country, who were demonstrating their idealism to build a better America. And Senator Kennedy pledged to all of us to get back to Washington to see that the National and Community Service Act of 1990 he had just introduced would become law.

When he finished, we all rose to our feet and gave a prolonged standing ovation. Everyone felt like we were participating in a little part of history. Little did we know then that Senator Kennedy would not only get that law passed, but he would stay at it for the next twenty years, day in and day out, through thick and thin championing the cause of service until the passage of the overwhelmingly bi-partisan Serve America Act this past spring.

Ted Kennedy, like everyone in his extraordinary family, lived by the motto “one person can make a difference, and everyone must try.” And oh what a tremendous difference he made through five decades of public service.

As those of us at Be the Change and across the service movement mourn his loss, we take comfort in knowing that the impact of Senator Kennedy’s life and work will reverberate for generations to come. His very personal and unyielding commitment reminds us all that there is no higher calling than service to one’s community, country, and world. And that is the best way each of us can carry on his legacy.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Senator Kennedy, his wonderful family and all whose lives have been changed by this singular American hero.

Alan Khazei
Founder and CEO, Be the Change, Inc.

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