Whew! Here at NPCA our small staff is still catching up after our recent very busy, very productive annual summer meetings. In the space of three days there were meetings of the Board of Directors, Group Leaders Forum, General Membership and Advisory Council, plus a day of advocacy on Capitol Hill, all topped off with a reception and special advance screening of “American Idealist: The Story of Sargent Shriver” at the Library of Congress. Close to 300 people attended this last event, made possible through the generous support of NPCA partner GEICO and with the assistance of Director Bruce Ornstein and the Chicago Video Project.
It’s thrilling to think that with this documentary this overlooked American visionary will finally be getting his due. Nowadays –if he registers at all – the general public knows Shriver as the father of broadcaster Maria Shriver and the father-in-law of a certain governor of California. Some might remember that he had a hand in creating the Peace Corps. But I would guess almost none would credit him with the creation of Head Start, Job Corps and other War on Poverty programs that are taken for granted as part of the fabric of American life. And close to none would know that he had serious national political prospects of his own before joining the Kennedy family.
In the audience for the screening were many people who knew “Sarge” personally. Tom Scanlon, an early Peace Corps volunteer and long-time friend, offered opening remarks that attested to Sarge’s guts, vision and commitment to peace in all its manifestations. As for the film, it was by turns eye-opening, entertaining and inspiring, with knowing laughs erupting from the audience at several points (there's a priceless exchange with LBJ) and a standing ovation at the end.
As the crowd dispersed one of our interns remarked how Shriver’s name never once came up during a semester-long course she had taken on poverty in America. The film, it is hoped, will change this. Bruce Orenstein is working with Harris Wofford, Bill Josephson, and Geri Critchley to organize an education campaign that will implant “American Idealist” and its accompanying teaching materials in high schools, college classrooms, and public service organizations where it will teach and inspire for years to come. The timing of the release, just before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, couldn’t be more auspicious. “American Idealist: The Story of Sargent Shriver” will serve as a powerful reminder of what bold, courageous and compassionate leadership looks like.