In June of 1966, Senator Robert Kennedy visited South Africa at a time when that nation was experiencing major unrest over the system of racial segregation known as apartheid. Kennedy decided to visit upon the invitation of NUSAS, the anti-Apartheid National Union of South African Students. Senator Kennedy arrived to deliver the Annual Day of Affirmation Speech at the University of Cape Town. Senator Kennedy’s journey to South Africa was enormously important both symbolically and practically. As the Civil Rights Movement continued to gain momentum in the United States, Senator Kennedy drew powerful parallels between the systems of racial inequality in both nations. Yet he also urged the possibility of transformation, and took note of the many strides taken by communities in both nations intent upon building a more just society.
Although Senator Kennedy offered up numerous oratorical gems during his visit, his most well-known speech was delivered at the University of Cape Town on June 6th, 1966. Known as the “Ripple of Hope” speech, this address is remembered as one of the most significant and powerful speeches of the 20th century. In this speech he said;
"Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. Thousands of Peace Corps volunteers are making a difference in isolated villages and city slums in dozens of countries. Thousands of unknown men and women in Europe resisted the occupation of the Nazis and many died, but all added to the ultimate strength and freedom of their countries. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls
of oppression and resistance.”
While there are many nuggets wisdom that can be gleaned from Senator Kennedy’s speech there are three points that provide great guidance on life and business:
1) Every world citizen is endowed by God with essential freedoms and human rights that no man can absolutely take away.
2) Every action that we take – whether it be big or small – matters and has impact on people and systems.
3) Small individual efforts, when combined with other small individual efforts that are focused on achieving a worthy objective have the power to alter the course of human history.