Sargent Shriver’s World Wide Reach


“Do the job first, Worry about ‘permission’ later.”
-Sargent Shriver

When Sargent Shriver died yesterday at 95, the litany of his accomplishments solemnly droned through the news cycle, the President issued a statement, and the burbling cartoon thought bubble of American culture noted that he was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s father in law.

But there was more. All of it tied to Sargent Shriver.

The sun comes out over a clearing in a tiny central African village. A six-year-old girl walks a dusty path home from school. Thirsty and hot from the walk she goes first to the pump and giggles as the burbling cold water splashes over her upturned face. Her grandmother smiles, remembering that when she was six, the walk to get water took an hour and there was no school. But then things changed. Pushed along by Sargent Shriver.

A world away, just outside Kankakee Illinois, a woman named Rose, who has spent her whole life right here in what is one of the poorest per capita areas in the United States, decides she is going to feed her children carrots for dinner tonight. Rose numbers among the 16% of the American population living in poverty. She doesn’t know that the poverty level held steady this past year, despite the crushing unemployment. She doesn’t know that the program that enabled her to buy the carrots, a thought she got from Oprah, was one of the tattered remains of the Office of Economic Opportunity, dismantled in 1973, the year she was born, but started by Sargent Shriver. But she knows her kids can have carrots tonight.

“There’s a difference between hard work and economic oppression.”
Sargent Shriver

Travel back to an autumn day in Chicago 1946. Joseph Kennedy has just purchased Marshall Field’s dream building, The Merchandise Mart, in Chicago. Field’s vision was to consolidate the wholesale business at the crossroads of the nation under one roof. Up until the Pentagon, it was the largest office building in the world. Located on the Chicago River where an Indian Trading post once stood, on the loading dock below the north side of the building, my Grandfather was doing what he did every day. Working hard. Loading up the trucks, the goods still damp from his sweat, then slapping the sides of the trucks as they chugged away from the dock and another one backed in their place.

My Grandfather might have understood that quote from Sargent Shriver. He might not have. I wonder how many would really understand it, or even more important, would even care to understand it, today.

But my grandfather knew who Sargent Shriver was. He saw him watching the operation that day on the loading dock. Saw the friendly nod from Shriver pointed his way. One man seeing another man working hard. A moment when words didn’t matter. And later that same day, when my grandfather sat down at the dinner table with his family, passing around the plate heaped with chicken and then the potatoes, my grandfather said, “Saw the new boss today. Seems like he’s got a good head on his shoulders.”

The worldwide reach of Sargent Shriver is very much alive. In every soul touched by The Peace Corps, VISTA, Operation Head Start, The Merchandise Mart, The Chicago Public Schools, Indian Migrant and Neighborhood Health Services. The list goes on. But it’s not about the programs. It’s about the living, breathing, sweating individuals.

Like the Irish immigrant sweating on the loading dock who got the nod straight from Shriver himself.

Even today. Right now. Announced just a few hours ago. The Sargent Shriver Center on Poverty Law in Chicago has just been awarded a MacArthur Grant. One of 11 recipients of awards of up to one million dollars.

Might that connect personally to you?

Follow this link to the Center web site.

Run your mouse over the map of the United States to see how your elected officials voted on whether or not we as a society will help take care of those who can’t of themselves. Those who, remembering Shriver’s words, work hard but are economically oppressed. Here in Illinois we have one Senator who scored 100 on a scale of 1-100. And we have another Senator who scored 56.

So the work goes on. The reach of the work connecting all of us.

Inspired by the worldwide reach of Sargent Shriver.

An idealist. Who also got things done.

One Response to “Sargent Shriver’s World Wide Reach”

  1. Helen Gagel Says:

    Thanks Roger — Sargent Shriver was one of my political heroes. By the time I began my VISTA service in 1968, the tide was turning. The country elected Richard Nixon and the decimation of the War on Poverty began. The head of OEO was one Donald Rumsfeld. I hope–and believe–that Sargent Shriver’s legacy will outshine his.

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