Thank you – and good afternoon, everyone. It’s a privilege to be here today, and to be a part of this dedication ceremony. And it’s a great pleasure to join so many distinguished guests, devoted public servants, passionate community leaders, Earth Conservation Corps members – and members of the Kennedy family – in honoring an extraordinary woman who not only witnessed, but helped to shape, a critical period of American history; a leader who has stood as a pillar of strength – not just for her family, but for our communities and our nation; and a pioneer who has served, throughout her life, as a champion for causes ranging from civil rights to the eradication of poverty, the empowerment of young people, and the conservation of the Anacostia River right here in Washington, D.C.
As we’ve heard this afternoon, Ethel Kennedy is no less than an American icon, and nothing short of a living legend. But she is also a steadfast friend to those in need, a staunch advocate for those at risk, and a principled leader in this community. From those singular years at Hickory Hill, half a century ago, when she and her husband regularly convened gatherings of luminaries from around this city and across the globe, to her example of grace and resilience in the face of great tragedy; from her leadership and extensive travels on behalf of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, to her tireless work on behalf of the people of Southeast Washington – she has devoted her life to the betterment of others. And like her late husband, my most accomplished predecessor as Attorney General – and like so many other members of the storied Skakel and Kennedy families – she has never been afraid to roll up her sleeves, rally those around her, and lead from the front lines of the fight for change.
Nowhere is this more evident than here on the banks of the Anacostia, in vibrant neighborhoods that have been too often forgotten – amid a fragile environment that’s been too long neglected. During my service as a judge – and later as United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, in the mid-1990s – I saw firsthand the intractable public safety challenges, and the vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration, that have gripped this community and stolen far too many promising futures.
Indeed, as we’ve heard this afternoon, a shocking number of ECC members – the best and the brightest; the future of this city – have fallen victim to senseless violence since this effort began. But as a result of the courage, the resolve, and the tireless work of community activists, Corps members, and leaders like Ethel Kennedy, over the last two decades, we have seen tremendous progress and brought about lasting, positive change. There’s no question that significant challenges remain before us – but thanks to the principled stands you’ve taken, the fight Mrs. Kennedy is helping to lead, and the work of community members who have rallied to build the brighter futures that every D.C. resident deserves – countless lives have been improved and even saved. And these beautiful natural areas are being preserved.
That’s why it’s fitting that we gather today – alongside ECC leaders and proud residents of Wards 6, 7 and 8 – to thank Ethel Kennedy for the work she has championed. To bestow just a small measure of the recognition, and the public acclaim, that she richly deserves. And to honor her indelible contributions to this community by naming one of the original connectors that links Anacostia to greater Washington in her honor.
Throughout her extraordinary life, Ethel Kennedy has shown us – by word and by deed – that every American has not just the power, but the responsibility, to help improve and transform the world around them. And through her service, she has inspired countless individuals in and far beyond this crowd – including me – to follow her example. She has never pursued the national spotlight. But she has also never failed to embrace the considerable duties – and the substantial burdens – that circumstance and history have placed squarely on her shoulders.
Today, we pay tribute to this remarkable leader. We thank her for bearing these burdens, and leading these efforts, with grace and with poise. We declare that she is not merely one of the best among us – she is a national treasure. And we pledge that we will honor her achievements by rededicating ourselves – here and now – to the work that must remain our common cause; by carrying on the fight for juvenile and environmental justice; and by continuing to support and empower those who need our help the most, across the country as well as here in Washington – on both sides of the bridge that will forever bear her name.
Thank you once again, Mrs. Kennedy, for all that you have done, and meant, to this community and to our nation. I am honored to share this auspicious moment with you. And I look forward to all that we will do and achieve together in the months and years to come.