Those who lead are endowed with the most powerful tool known to humankind. In this video, an example of its raw power, and why it has never been easier to use it.
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It was a perilous time in the United States of America.
Our political discourse had become a sewer, so vile, so venal, so filled with hate and division that certain subjects dare not be mentioned a family gatherings.
There is a crime epidemic no one knew how to contain. Civil unrest no one knew how to control. We were a nation wracked by a war that no one knew how to stop.
It was 1968. I was a 13 year old farm boy. My father was a hard-charging, hardworking farmer who expected me to do chores before and after school. He was a voracious reader of books and newspapers who expected me to be well read. He was an ex military intelligence officer who loved to interrogate me about current events at the dinner table. I won’t say my father was impatient, but he was really easily agitated when I didn’t know the answer.
For this reason in 1968, I was probably the best read 13 year old farm boy in all of Blackford County, Indiana.
Therefore I knew the names and the complete biographies of everyone running for President that year, including a certain New York Senator named Robert Francis Kennedy. On April 4, as I was getting ready to do my chores after school I scanned the newspapers on the kitchen table. And I noticed that Kennedy was campaigning in Indiana that day. Figuring that he’d be on the evening news I finished my chores early so that I could watch.
Except when the news came on he wasn’t there. Instead I saw footage of cities all over America on fire. Burning. Looting. Rioting. Then came President Johnson pleading for calm and demanding law and order. Finally, halfway through the newscast there was Robert Kennedy…
…standing on the back of a flatbed truck in what was called the ghetto of Indianapolis, surrounded by a sea of horrified faces as he told them that Martin Luther King had been assassinated.
Kennedy spoke of his own pain of losing his brother to an assassin’s bullet. He asked that they not respond to violence with violence, but to instead go to their homes and churches, to peacefully honor, remember and celebrate the life of Dr. King.
Kennedy spoke for less than five minutes, ending his speech by reciting the words of Aeschylus, “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom, through the awful grace of God.”
When he finished, thousands of people quietly joined hands and went to their homes and churches to pray.
Indianapolis was the only major city in the country where there was no violence that night. To this day, it is a city that has been largely free of racial conflict.
Today it is also a thriving city. It has a football stadium, a basketball arena, a baseball stadium, a world class Natatorium, beautiful museums, restaurants open around the clock. And a small monument. Commemorating the night that Senator Kennedy sought to heal suffering by summoning the better angels of the human spirit.
I have a very personal connection to that moment. It was the first time in my life that I had ever seen the raw power of words. Words that forever changed the destiny of an entire city. Words that forever altered my personal and professional journey, for I soon came to realize that I would never be content to live the life of a farmer; that my destiny was to be on or near that great stage of discourse and democracy.
Words are the most powerful drug mankind has ever known. The internet is the most powerful weapon ever invented.
You do not need to be a Senator, or run for President to make a difference.
It has never been easier to right a wrong; correct an injustice; advance a cause or lead a movement. Never has it be easier to be a source of inspiration or a role model for a world starving for leadership.
There has never been a greater need for that than there is today. There has never been a better time to do it. There has never been a group of people better suited to do it than those of us in this room.
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Political consultant Jay Townsend works with smart, passionate candidates who want to run for office, win elections and make a difference. He has successfully helped candidates learn how to run for the U.S. Senate, how to run for Congress, how to run for Mayor and develop a winning campaign marketing strategy.
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