Good morning; thank you, Rick.
I was raised in a small two bedroom home in a blue collar neighborhood just north of Houston. We were a poor family from a poor community. There were no private schools, no summer camps or after school programs.
But I was fortunate in that I had loving parents who kept a watchful eye on me and my seven brothers and sisters. The boys set up a baseball field in our backyard with a makeshift backstop made of 2X4s and chicken wire. And during the summers, we played in the morning, took a break for a lunch of tortillas and beans and a short nap. Then we played again all afternoon. We did this everyday.
When I was a young boy, I don’t think my parents ever had serious worries about where we were and what we were doing. There were no trouble-making friends, no drugs or alcohol. There was just a strong family connection and there was baseball.
Too many of our children today are not so fortunate. There are too many broken homes, too many missing parents, and too many wasted lives. How does a child from disadvantageous circumstances find their way?
They do it with the guidance of organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs that inspire kids to dream big dreams. They do it with mentors like the five outstanding young people who are being recognized today: Montrelle Lee, Alyse Eady, David Shelly, Stacey Walker, and Kelly Barefield.
Each and every one of you is deserving of the national award that will be presented today – and I want you know that it’s been my privilege to be with you this morning. I look forward to following your careers as you grow up to lead your generation.
These young men and women exemplify the purpose of the Boys and Girls Club: the pursuit of a better future for America’s youth.
We share that purpose at the Justice Department, and that’s why I’m so pleased to be able to have this conversation with all of you today. From preventing terrorist attacks, to cracking down on gangs and violent crime, to tracking down pedophiles and internet predators, we fight for our children, that they may enjoy the promise of America. We fight for their innocence and their dreams. It is a fight for our future.
None of these goals can be achieved without cohesive, coordinated efforts among all levels of government as well as the private and non-profit sectors.
It strikes me that when prevention is the goal, partnerships are most critical.
At the Department, criminal prosecution is an important part of what we do, but it is a hollow victory when compared to prevention.
We seek to prevent kids from joining gangs or doing drugs in the first place.
Prosecuting young criminals is not a success. Seeing young people graduate from high school and pursue dreams of career, education, family… that’s success.
The Boys and Girls Club understands the goal of prevention as well as any group in America today. You have a proud history of offering an alternative to kids who might otherwise get involved with drugs, gangs or other crimes.
At the Department, we appreciate the partnership of the Boys and Girls Club, and we challenge you to take your mission even further.
We will, of course, be by your side. We need your expertise to make Departmental initiatives, like Project Safe Neighborhood and Project Safe Childhood, a success.
We also want to go with you to the communities that others will not serve. We’re proud to be partnering with you in New Orleans, for example, where violent crime is threatening neighborhoods struggling to recover from unprecedented disaster. The Department is proud to be providing funding to help establish a Boys and Girls Club and Police Athletic League in New Orleans right now.
Let’s continue to challenge ourselves to find those neighborhoods where kids really don’t have enough options—where they cannot play baseball because the sandlot is patrolled by gangs. In areas both urban and rural, there are too many kids who leave a bad school in the afternoon to return to an empty or even dangerous home. That’s where we need the Boys and Girls Club the most, and I want to support you in seeking those neighborhoods out.
I particularly want to commend the volunteers who support Boys and Girls Clubs because I know the good work of this organization would not be possible without them.
I hope that your volunteerism inspires the children you work with to someday become volunteers and mentors themselves. Service and volunteerism are a key part of citizenship and help us to appreciate the blessings of this great nation.
In giving to others we rekindle and refine ourselves. It feels good to help others… to know that you have made a difference in someone’s life.
There can be no question that volunteerism is good for society and good for the soul. I’m also interested in what it can do for a nation that is so blessed, so prosperous, that we may have lost a bit of perspective on our own fortune.
While I believe strongly that the best “hand-up” ever given is freedom itself, we cannot take pride in ourselves or in our nation if we are not taking care of our neighbors when they need us.
The volunteers of the Boys and Girls Club are a shining example of the American heart and a unique dedication to giving back.
Everyone involved in the Boys and Girls Club gives a gift to the next generation. Your time and financial resources are well-spent and they do make a difference.
There is one more gift that I hope the Club will consider giving to their girls and boys… and that’s the gift of American history.
Consider posting the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights on your facility walls. We can’t bring every child here to Washington to visit the National Archives, but we can bring the charters of freedom to every child.
Because, regardless of the neighbourhood they are growing up in, every American child has an advantage in life because they are American citizens. They are born to a freedom that other children, in other countries, can only dream of.
I hope to see more children learning that their country was built to be a place of opportunity, a golden door to step through and grasp a dream.
I believe that our country’s founding documents are one of the best illustrations of American hope… and surely hope and opportunity is what the Boys and Girls Club is really all about.
Thank you for giving me the time to share these thoughts, and for having me here today for this Centennial Celebration. We are here on this earth but for a short time and in my mind for a definite purpose. Each of us are given specific gifts and talents to be shared to affect the lives of others. I pray that God watches over you and your family, may he guide your all of your decisions and may he continue to bless the United States of America.