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Creating a Ripple of Hope

November 17, 2010

Two years ago, I saw a documentary that I will never forget at our local Heartland Film Festival. It is called “A Ripple of Hope,” about a moment in Indianapolis history on the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr died. Robert Kennedy had just launched his Presidential campaign and was scheduled to speak in Indianapolis that day, at 16th and Broadway, one of the poorest areas of the city.

Recently, the movie was shown on PBS so I recorded it and have watched it three more times with different family members, the most recent being this weekend with my husband. It never fails to inspire.

Kennedy had spoken in South Bend and Muncie that day and was on his way to Indianapolis when he learned that King had been shot. By the time he arrived in Indy, he knew that King had died. The question was, should he speak or not?

Everyone except John Lewis urged him not to appear. Lewis was an aide to RFK, had marched with Dr. King, and is now a U.S. Representative from Georgia. Those who urged him not to speak were afraid of potential riots, which were occurring in many other U.S. cities. Senator Dick Lugar, who was Mayor of Indianapolis at the time, and the Indianapolis Police Department did not want him to speak.

But speak he did, and there were no riots in Indianapolis. It was a short speech but powerful, and one that illustrates clearly how to defuse a tense situation. Listen to the speech below, which is the first four minutes of this video.

His quote from the Greek poet, Aeschylus, was:

“In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

The crowd got it. Through suffering comes wisdom. As one person who witnessed the event said, “True poetry and art tends to elevate. He plucked a flower from Greek literature and handed it to the audience.” And another, “There is almost no person, no matter how mean their circumstances, no matter how scant their education, who cannot be addressed in the noblest of terms.”

There were riots in 76 other U.S. cities, but not in Indianapolis. He told the unvarnished truth. He had compassion for those who would feel bitter. He said that we need love, compassion, and wisdom towards one another. He gave them other options for responding to their bitterness. A lesson that still rings true today.

Robert Kennedy was killed two months later.

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