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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Achievement Against All Odds Awards

1990-05-03

Thank you all. I'm surprised you're so polite. A thousand apologies for keeping you waiting. Senator Kasten and Secretary -- glad to see you, Jack -- and other Members of Congress and other distinguished guests, again, my official apologies. But at least you had a fair weather in which to wait in this beautiful Rose Garden; look at it that way. But to Secretary Kemp and Bob Woodson, Wayne Hedien, Members of the Congress, it's great to get outdoors again. [Laughter]

Perhaps you saw on the news that Millie was hanging around, just over the other side, down in the ivy down there, when something bit her on the nose. I'm not sure if it was a squirrel or a rat, but I had to investigate.

And of course, anyplace you go here -- I do, as President -- there's a bunch of Secret Service guys following right along. So, imagine this: the seven of us -- [laughter] -- poking around in the hedges, looking for the culprit, when, you guessed it, the sprinklers came on. [Laughter] So, I just want you to know there's a real life inside this magnificent complex.

But, look, we're here today because of the leadership of the Allstate Foundation and the vision of Robert Woodson and the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise. For years, Bob has opposed the idea that big problems can only be solved by big government solutions, and he believes that no Federal program can begin to match the strength of our people and our neighborhoods. And he believes that to fight poverty, crime, and despair, we must first empower the powerless: empower Americans to help themselves; empower them to help their neighbors; empower them to become leaders, to make the coming century yet another American century.

And this is, in truth, happening, as the age of the individual dawns around the world, from Moscow to Managua. So, let's remember, in this heartland of individualism, our own American tradition of self-reliance and helping others. While government certainly has a critical role to play, we've been too willing in recent years to look first to Big Brother in Washington for the answers. And we're learning that if there is to be a better future, it must arise in the hearts of the men and women who struggle daily against poverty and ignorance and prejudice.

And so, we're here today to honor a select few -- could be many of you out there -- but today, we honor a select few who are creating such a future, seven people chosen to receive the first Achievement Against the Odds Award. They're not winning Oscars, they are not recipients of the Pulitzer or the Nobel, but what they have done and what they have achieved is, in truth, every bit as great and as beautiful as the work of any actor, artist, or scientist. For we have with us today seven men and women who have prevailed over handicap and heartache.

You've heard me speak of the Thousand Points of Light, my expression for that constellation of volunteers who are serving our communities, our cities, our nation, making America just a little better each day through national service. Well, some of those Points of Light, those shining stars, are with us.

Take Charles Ballard -- which is Charles? Where are we? Right here -- an orphan, grew up to be a teen father, chemically dependent, prison inmate. And now he's legally adopted and raised a son; earned a master's degree; founded the Teen Father Program, which helps thousands of teen fathers deal with their responsibilities.

And also Bobby Drayton. There he is -- Bobby. He will tell you that he himself was twice victimized, first by epilepsy and then by an attack of self-pity. But by age 17, he had enough of feeling sorry for himself, and he decided to fight his condition through athletics, becoming one of the toughest competitors on the Howard University gymnasts team. And he also formed and headed youth programs for disadvantaged kids. Like a gymnast on the parallel bars, he balances his success -- his success -- with service to others.

Freddie Garcia. Freddie? Freddie Garcia grew up amid poverty, illiteracy, and too much discrimination. And in fact, some of his teachers and students actually managed to convince Freddie that he was a failure. And as so often happens, the prediction became a bit self-fulfilling, and he eventually became addicted to drugs and a criminal. But then he found his faith. He earned a degree from the Latin American Bible Institute, founded Victory Outreach of Texas, a Christian-oriented rehabilitation center which under his leadership has developed one of the most effective programs in the fight against drug addiction, alcoholism, and other life-consuming problems. A man who has come back from the precipice can best warn others of the danger of drugs, and he is such a man. And he's living proof that success is also a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Cheryl Hayes, right there -- Cheryl. She's a mother who was dependent on welfare and, much worse, dependent on drugs. And now she's the head of a support group for youth with addicted family members. And she's also working hard with her family to invest 500 hours, Jack, of ``sweat equity'' in the home she's building with Habitat for Humanity. We congratulate you.

Or consider Kathleen Smallwood Johnson -- Kathleen -- whose father was murdered when she was 14 and mother was murdered when she was 16. So, at an age that for most of us is the most carefree time of our lives, she became the head of her family. And she raised her three brothers and sisters. She reentered college and graduated. She's now a successful attorney, and a mother to her late sister's three children and two children of her own, and still has time to serve others, still has time to serve her community.

Brad Linnenkamp -- here we are. Brad Linnenkamp. He calls himself physically challenged because he challenges cerebral palsy with a tenacity that most of us can only imagine. He volunteers and now works full-time as a counselor. And he has no time to worry about his own problems because he's too busy caring for others who are in a greater need than himself.

And finally, Vivienne Thompson. She's wheelchair-bound, as you can see -- single parent. But Vivienne didn't let that hold her back. She often confronts the barriers -- some concrete; others, sadly, of culture -- that have fenced in so many disabled Americans. As an antipoverty leader in Boston, she also helped establish the first Head Start class for severely disabled, handicapped, low-income children.

Each of these seven Americans provides a definition of the word that I've learned to respect so much -- learned from Jack Kemp -- ``empowerment.'' Whether they turned to a higher faith for inspiration or drew deep from strength of their souls, they represent the very best of the survival instinct in all of us and something more: a yearning to help others, to be a guiding star to someone who is lost -- indeed, a Point of Light.

Zane Grey once wrote that ``To bear up under loss, to smile when tears are close, to resist evil men and base instincts, to seek ever after the glory and the dream, that is what any man can do, and so be great.'' In this way, each of you have achieved greatness -- the kind that brings out the greatness in others.

And now, Bob, let's get on with the show, to the brisk business of presenting these awards. It's all yours, sir.

Note: The President spoke at 3:31 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp; Robert L. Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise; and Wayne E. Hedien, chairman and chief executive officer of Allstate Insurance Co.

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