In the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who, at the helm of a nation confronted by economic depression and geopolitical uncertainty, said:
“I propose to create a Civilian Conservation Corps to be used in simple work…More important, however, than the material gains will be the moral and spiritual value of such work.”
As we celebrate the end of our NCCC journey, I find myself looking back to the beginning. At that time, I felt confronted. Not by adversity identical to that of 1930′s American but by deficits in my life as well as in the world around me. Searching to fill these voids, I, like all of you, turned to a program vested with FDR’s belief that, “simple work,” endowed with “moral and spiritual value,” rather than material, could save a man and his nation. Charged with the mission of “strengthening communities and developing leaders through team-based national and community service,” its Five Pillars of Service: accountability, selflessness, diversity, engagement, self-development, and its contention that “civic responsibility is the inherent duty of all citizens,” NCCC professes to be, and after a term of service, we know, truly is, the vanguard for a second piece of Rooseveltian wisdom.
“In days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice…the path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow-man.”
Team Leaders and Corp Members, congratulations, your participation in this ceremony testifies that over the last ten months you have met this challenge. After four rounds, the formative impact you have left on the communities of the Southern Region, each other, and this program, is unquestionable. You have persevered through “days of difficulty” with a conscious mind and a generous heart. Through experiences good and bad, we have lived the narrative penned by acclaimed southern writer, Ralph Elision, in his 1952 novel, Invisible Man. As I reflect, I see evident kinship between we graduates and the trials and tribulations of Invisible Man’s unnamed protagonist, a character Ellison used to dramatizes the inequities of American Society, the notion of social responsibility, and the motif of brotherhood as a curative. As I read the work’s concluding lines, consider their resonance with individuals such as ourselves.
“Ah,” I can hear you say, “so it was all a build-up to bore us with his buggy jiving. He only wanted us to listen to him rave!” But being only partially true: Being invisible and without substance, a disembodied voice, as it were, what else could I do? What else but try to tell you what was really happening when your eyes were looking through? And it is this which frightens me:
Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?
As I gaze upon this audience, I am emboldened by looks of affirmation. It brings me joy to see the presence of such philosophy in this room and to consider its existence in Denver, Sacramento, Vinton, and Baltimore. For our eyes are no longer looking through. Today is not a graduation, it is an induction, the beginnings of a lifetime of service. Our training has concluded, leaving us more equipped, capable, and enlightened to speak and act for the individuals and causes found on life’s lower frequencies. Let this not only be our mantra but our new-found mission statement. A purpose that transcends a ten month term, a temporary commitment, and a finite effort.
“For in days of difficulty” a former president, and more importantly–a nation–demands that we serve. For those less fortunate–and like ourselves–deserve nothing less.