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Public Papers - 1991

Remarks on Signing the Points of Light National Celebration of Community Service Proclamation in Glenarden, Maryland


Thank you, Van -- Mr. Standifer. And may I salute the sponsors and the parents and the city and county officials that are with us today. Single out the players, some of whom I just met with. And also say to the mayor, Marvin Wilson, and to the county executive, Mr. Glendening, Parris Glendening, that I'm just delighted to be here. And I saw earlier Marty Madden and John Morgan, the State delegates, and we're glad to have been greeted by them. All of us should thank the business leaders in the front row and other sponsors who made this day possible.

And I'm glad to be here; I really mean that. You know, when I told Barbara that I'd be visiting a great institution dedicated to keeping guys off the street and out of trouble, she said, ``George, you spoke to Congress last month.'' [Laughter]

And then I told her, ``No, as Commander in Chief I want to see firsthand some real American air power: dazzling nighttime shooting, skilled tactical wizardry, and the courageous airborne maneuvers Americans have become world-famous for.'' And she said, ``Oh, you mean Midnight Basketball.'' [Laughter] And here we are.

You know, America -- we do have a lot to celebrate these days. And people all over the country are finding a new sense of confidence in our young men and women. And you can see it in the faces, obviously, of every single soldier and sailor, every airman, and marine that served America and the world so well, now coming home from the Persian Gulf. But you, also, see it here today. And I'm proud to tell you that I've never had more confidence in the future than after coming here and to other Points of Light -- this instance, our 124th daily Point of Light -- to see this Midnight Basketball myself. I do feel confident in the young people of this country and in those who are helping them.

And this country is finally catching on to the fact that whenever drugs are involved, everybody loses. But here, everybody wins. And some may get better at basketball, but everyone gets a better shot at life -- every participant.

And the volunteers who make this program work bring in speakers, and they set up tutorials and workshops. And with local technical schools, they're helping these young men learn skills to live by. The focus here is not on problems; it's on promise and potential.

And you know, when Van Standifer visited the White House a few months ago, he said, ``The last thing in the world that Midnight Basketball is about is basketball.'' He said it was about providing opportunities for young adults to escape drugs and get on with their lives. And he's right. Midnight Basketball has become a real community institution. And people come to play and to watch and to cheer and to find new hope and to shape their lives. Streets once littered with drugs and plagued by violence have become peaceful and passable. Not surprisingly, the crime rate has dropped by 60 percent since this program began. And so, Van, in my view, you are doing the kind of creative thinking that we need to encourage everywhere in this country.

And that's why, today, we're launching a National Celebration of Community Service, a tribute to the spirit of service in America, 2 weeks to salute the year-round efforts of everyone from kids to seniors now working to find solutions for every kind of challenge, everywhere in the United States of America.

Every American involved in service is reaffirming this nation as a community of conscience, a decent land -- proud, but not boastful -- with a national will reaffirmed and redirected, an America that has rediscovered the can-do attitude.

So, Midnight Basketball by itself may not transform America. But imagine what would happen, just think what would happen if all Americans made service to others a central part of their lives.

I believe the day will come when Americans who are not committed to community service will wake up, will realize how much they're missing. They'll experience the fulfillment that comes from serving others, and we'll begin to fill in gaps no government could ever fill in alone. People won't be able to look the other way or walk away ever again.

Right now, everyday heroes you've never heard of are wrestling with the tough, gritty problems that many Americans try to avoid but which we as Americans simply cannot ignore. One by one, step by step, day by day, they're changing lives, and they're enjoying themselves.

Somebody told me that in Midnight Basketball, the only defense allowed is man-to-man. And that's important, because our only defense against despair, drugs, hopelessness has to happen one-to-one. You don't have to try to change the world, just help one person. Teach one person to read, feed one hungry child, hold one lonely hand. That's all it takes.

Too many look at life and wonder, well, what's the point. But Points of Light never have to ask what's the point of life. They know. It's something bigger than themselves. And they know that the power of one hopeful person can outshine a million indifferent stares and give life to a million different dreams. They know that caring individuals can light up every corner of the land.

So, I wanted to come over here today simply to say thanks to Mr. Standifer, to county and city officials, to the players, to the coaches, to the sponsors. And everybody understands what we're talking about when we talk about one American helping another.

I want to thank you all for what you're doing. May God bless our great country. And now, with great pleasure, I will sign this proclamation. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:20 p.m. in the gymnasium of the Glenarden Community Center. In his opening remarks, he referred to Van Standifer, founder of the Midnight Basketball League; Marvin F. Wilson, major of Glenarden; Parris Glendening, Prince George's County executive; and Martin G. Madden and John S. Morgan, delegates to the Maryland General Assembly. The proclamation is listed in Appendix E at the end of this volume.

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