A few months ago, I was shocked when I received an e-mail from Kerry Kennedy
– Senator Robert Kennedy's daughter and president of the Robert
F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights – asking me and my
wife to be her guests at a dinner in New York City honoring Vincent Mai
and Taylor Swift for their human rights work around the globe.
I nearly had a breakdown when a week before the dinner, I received an invitation
to a private luncheon with Ms. Kennedy and some of her close associates
to be held a few hours before the dinner began. Needless to say, I was nervous.
I arrived at the Cornell Club a few blocks from Times Square around noon
that day. I walked into a place where I immediately knew I did not belong-
rich, dark wood paneling along the walls, giant leather couches and antiques
all around. I was dressed in my best suit with a new tie and a hair cut,
and I still felt overwhelmed, out of place and self-conscious. I was about
to have lunch with someone who I look up to and whose work I admire. I
was about to have lunch with a Kennedy.
Lunch was served in the third floor library. I was seated directly next
to Ms. Kennedy. She owned the room and the conversation. At our table
I found myself surrounded by an attorney who specializes in class action
litigation against pharmaceutical companies, a long-time Kennedy family
friend, the president of the New York State Teachers Union, and a recent
RFK Center Laureate who is the leading the fight for the rights of migrant
workers in upstate New York.
In line for our meal, Frank Mugisha of Uganda told me about his struggle
to fight legislation in his country that would make being LGBTI punishable
by death. He told me of the assassination of his dear friend who died
in the great cause of that effort. Stephen Bradberry of New Orleans discussed
his most recent victory to provide hospitals and health clinics to those
in New Orleans still recovering from Katrina and subsequent hurricanes.
And there I sat, for one of the first and only times in my short twenty-nine
years, completely and utterly speechless. In the presence of these courageous,
strong people who have endured cruelties that most of us cannot imagine,
I could say absolutely nothing. Even today, I have difficulty summing
up this experience in words.
What I can say for sure is that these individuals redefined courage for
me. Courage is something individual. It is that moment when we stop living
for ourselves and start living for the best in one another. Courage is
when we draw our line in the sand and decide that we will no longer endure
the inequities and wrongs that we have watched apathetically plague our
lives and the lives of our neighbors.
As I sat there humbled before these real life, present day heroes, I began
to wonder what we could do as a community if we drew our line in the sand
– if we chose to live our lives for the best in one another. Wouldn't
that be something?