June 6 is the 48th anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s “Ripple of Hope” speech. On this day Kennedy gave his speech at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He called it a day of affirmation, defined by the freedom for which it stood. It was an incredible statement at the time to come to a third world country ruled by apartheid and express to the people that they are human beings, and that they do matter.
Senator Kennedy went on to talk of equality and its vital importance to progress and a better world. He noted the sad reality of discrimination, and that as a result, many never reached their full potential. As Kennedy notes, it is for this reason that we lost many great contributions to the world.
It was Senator Kennedy’s desire that equal opportunity exist for all and for the simplest of reasoning: “We must do [this] for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.”
Where do we stand today? Have we eliminated discrimination and the poverty and suffering it brings with it?
Ideally, we would like to think we have, but there is much work still to be done. The best way to combat this ongoing struggle is to continue to create opportunity. We do this by empowering every man and woman on earth to lift themselves out of poverty so that they may realize their potential as well.
We have had many successes with eliminating poverty, including a reduction in extreme poverty by over half since 1981. However, with 1.2 billion people still living in extreme poverty, there is no doubt that there is much more potential to be realized.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, where Kennedy spoke 48 years ago, there lives more than one-third of the world’s extreme poor. That is the equivalent of more than 400,000,000 people living in extreme poverty. The average income of these individuals is 84 cents a day.
It is discouraging to realize that of all the wealth we have amassed, we still have not eliminated extreme poverty. A 2012 report by Oxfam showed that, in 2012 alone, the world’s 100 wealthiest individuals earned enough money to end extreme poverty four times over.
This distribution of wealth does not represent the equality that Kennedy and so many others sought. The term equality encompasses more than rights and protection. It encompasses access to resources, income equality and fairness in general.
However, it is too early to get discouraged. In 2010, the world achieved Millennium Development Goal One, which was to decrease poverty in developing countries by half. The number of those living in poverty is still declining and if we as an international community keep working toward this goal, then ending extreme poverty is possible in our lifetime.
In the words of Kennedy on this day 48 years ago, “they are hoping and they are gambling their progress and their stability on the chance that we will meet our responsibilities to them, to help them overcome their poverty.”
– Christopher Kolezynski