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Archive for Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Former civil rights adviser to speak at summit

February 5, 2003

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A confidant of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy will be in Lawrence next week to address a summit on ways to improve the lives of Douglas County children.

"I'm looking forward to being in Lawrence," said Harris Wofford, who historians credit with encouraging then-candidate John F. Kennedy to call Coretta King on Oct. 26, 1960 to express concern for her husband, who, at the time, had been jailed in Georgia after attempts to integrate lunch counters in downtown Atlanta.

Because of the phone call, Kennedy won the hearts of millions of black voters, narrowly defeating then-Vice President Richard Nixon.

Wofford, now 76, also is credited with helping King apply Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent strategies to the civil rights movement.

"Yes, it's true," Wofford said during a telephone interview Tuesday from his home in Washington, D.C. "Martin Luther King, John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy were a very big part of my life back then. I was tremendously lucky to have worked with all three."

A special assistant to President Kennedy for civil rights, Wofford helped launch the Peace Corps in 1961.

Wofford said he sees a direct correlation between King's vision for America and the upcoming summit: "Building a Better Community: Taking the Next Steps for Our Youth."

"By the time Martin Luther King was killed," Wofford said, "the civil rights movement had met the challenge of securing the right to vote and ending segregation of public facilities, and he was pointing to America needing to keep its promise to its children and its young people.

Harris Wofford, left, who will speak next week in Lawrence, was a
special assistant to John F. Kennedy, right, advising the president
on civil rights. Wofford also helped launch the Peace Corps in
1961.

Harris Wofford, left, who will speak next week in Lawrence, was a special assistant to John F. Kennedy, right, advising the president on civil rights. Wofford also helped launch the Peace Corps in 1961.

"You can hear it in the 'I Have a Dream' speech, when he says, 'Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.'

"What we're going to be talking about in Lawrence is, I believe, the next step in Martin Luther King's journey. It may not be as dramatic and it won't be won with protests and demonstrations, but it's the direction he was headed and where all of us should be headed."

Wofford is chairman of the board of directors of America's Promise, a national organization dedicated to improving the lives of children.

Sponsored by Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, Lawrence-Douglas County Promise and Partnership for Children and Youth, the summit will be from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 15 at Lawrence High School. Admission is free.



Gov. Kathleen Sebelius announced Tuesday that she would take part in the Feb. 15 summit, "Building a Better Community: Taking the Next Steps for Our Youth," at Lawrence High School."We just found out today -- we're very excited," said Pat Roach Smith, spokeswomen for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, one of the summit's organizers. Smith said Sebelius was expected to address the summit "sometime in the midmorning, we're not sure yet."The summit begins at 9:30 a.m. and is scheduled to last until 3:30 p.m.

Most of the day's events -- forums, panel discussions and featured speakers -- will focus on ways to ensure safe, healthy and caring lives for children in Lawrence and Douglas County.

Former Kansas City Chiefs kicker Nick Lowery will moderate a panel discussion on children's issues.


Lunch will be provided to those who pre-register by Feb. 10 by calling 843-7058, ext. 10.

Summit organizers say they still need about 20 volunteers to help with the event. To volunteer, call Becky Twedt at 842-5006.

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