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City Year Founding Story: Ripples

Art by Brandon Mclaughlin & Kristan Batey

Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of this generation… It is from numberless diverse acts of courage… [and] …belief that human history is shaped. Each time a person 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 that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

– Robert F. Kennedy, Day of Affirmation Address, Capetown, South Africa

In 1966, Robert F. Kennedy was invited by the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), an antiapartheid organization, to speak at the annual Day of Affirmation. During RFK’s four-day tour, he spoke to numerous groups–energizing and inspiring people of all races with his words of conviction and belief. Copies of his speeches were passed hand-to-hand in the townships. People lined the streets to see him and shake his hand. The English language papers covered his every move. Robert Kennedy’s words proved to be prophetic, and the ripples he and countless others created did in fact form a mighty current of change. White minority rule in South Africa finally ended in 1994, with the election of the former political prisoner, Nelson Mandela, as the first President of a new, democratic, and non-racial South Africa.

The idea that many distinct acts of courage and belief create ripples that turn into currents of justice is a powerful concept, for it tells us that our idealistic actions are not isolated, and that the cumulative work of many committed people and institutions can have a dramatic impact. Similarly, sharing stories of acts of courage and belief–“ripples”–is a powerful way to inspire ourselves and others in the midst of difficult work, and to help generate more acts of courage and belief.

About the Artists: Brandon Mclaughlin and Kristan Batey served during the 2011–2012 school year in Los Angeles at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools. Robert F. Kennedy provides daily inspiration to Brandon and Kristan, and to the students they work with—Kennedy’s “ripples” quote is actually displayed on the front of the school. Kristan and Brandon worked very closely on this piece—literally starting on opposite sides of the page until their art met up in the middle. “When you stand up for values like equality the message is strong and people feel it,” Brandon said.