President Kennedy, 1963: “It was said, in an earlier age, that the mind of a man is a far country which can neither be approached nor explored. But, today, under present conditions of scientific achievement, it will be possible for a nation as rich in human and material resources as ours to make the remote reaches of the mind accessible. The mentally ill and the mentally retarded need no longer be alien to our affections or beyond the help of our communities.”
(Editor’s note: Although the language we use has changed, the hope expressed by President Kennedy remains the same)
Jo Ann Simons is a Disability Advisor to the Ruderman Family Foundation and President and CEO of the Cardinal Cushing Centers. She remarked: “As we all have been reminded over and over again about the great national tragedy that our nation endured when President Kennedy was assassinated, I noticed a Facebook entry from Anthony Shriver, the President’s nephew. He wrote about his uncle’s call to service and the great accomplishments of his short presidency in the area of disability. I thought Anthony’s message was one that should be spread and applied to the work we do at the Cardinal Cushing Centers.”
Below is the message Jo Ann sent her staff yesterday…
Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy. While the media will concentrate on the tragedy and what might have been, I will be using the day to reflect upon one of his gifts to the world. President Kennedy ushered in the age of inclusion and acceptance for persons with intellectual disabilities.
Here at the Cardinal Cushing Centers, we bore witness to his future legacy when, in 1957, then Senator Kennedy dedicated Kennedy Hall in memory of his brother, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. This building was made possible by the generous $400,000 gift from the Kennedy Foundation.
As President, Kennedy signed the first major U.S. legislation to help people with intellectual disabilities at a time when individuals with ID were routinely institutionalized and locked away.
Inspired by the challenges in the life of his sister Rosemary, President Kennedy became a pioneering advocate for people with disabilities. He was the first president to welcome a person with intellectual and developmental disability in to the White House. Fueled by the passion of his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, he established a President’s Panel on Mental Retardation. Within the National Institute of Health, he created what would become the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Institute of Child Health and Human Development. And he supported Mrs. Shriver’s creation of Special Olympics. In the years following the Kennedy administration, Congress passed 116 acts or amendments providing support for people with intellectual disabilities and their families.
Tomorrow, I will remember exactly where I was on that tragic day but, I also will remember where we are today because President Kennedy dared to be bold. And thankful to all of you for choosing to continue part of his legacy.
I am grateful.