JFK's Message Of Citizenship Still Important - My9 New Jersey

JFK's Message Of Citizenship Still Important

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The Kennedy era has been labeled "Camelot," a time of great optimism, when all things seemed possible. And in this age of partisan divide, his message of citizenship may be more important than ever.

Young and handsome and made for TV, John F. Kennedy was, in 1961, the voice and face of a new generation.

He was also, says University of Pennsylvania graduate and lawyer Scott Reisch, the messenger for a new optimism.

"We seemed to really believe that our best days were ahead of us and that we could each make a difference. And we had this promise, I mean; he called it the new frontier. There was this pioneer spirit, that people could be involved in something exciting and that we were part of an important team that was moving civilization forward," Reisch says.

Reisch, 30, is the author of "The Power of Citizenship: Why John F. Kennedy matters to a new generation."

In it, he describes the president's creation of the Peace Corps, the ultimate expression of American compassion.

"This is an opportunity for us, as privileged members of the world, to export some of our talents and resources and do something," Reisch explains.

Reisch says Kennedy's message of "we're all in this together" was best embodied in the most famous passage from his inaugural address: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

"I think it's about localizing that message, to give people an opportunity to get involved in their communities and embrace this spirit to say, 'I want to do good,'" Reisch articulates.

But the all too brief Kennedy administration wasn't all good. There were mistakes and controversies along the way.

But Reisch says JFK's July 4th, 1962 speech, right here at Independence Hall, symbolized the spirit of the new frontier.

In an address to a crowd that included governors from all over the nation, President Kennedy spoke of defending peace and freedom in support of the Declaration of Independence then quoted the great document: "With a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor."

"That's citizenship," Reisch says. "We mutually pledge to each other. We are in this together. We're on the same team. We have a shared faith. We have a shared destiny and we need to do something about it. We need to act in a way that reflects these values."

Reisch says today's dysfunctional, hyper-partisan government has turned off America's young people.

An assassin's bullet brought a premature end to Kennedy's life, and in the view of many, to the hope and optimism he embodied.

But Reisch believes millennials can breathe new life into those ideals.

"Kennedy famously says in his inaugural address, that the torch has been passed to a new generation. And I think, 50 years later, it's time for us to be asking, should we be taking that torch now? I think my generation's ready," Reisch declares.

We'll take a look back at the JFK assassination in a special report airing Friday night at 10:30 on FOX 29.

We also have a special section devoted to the anniversary on MyFOXPhilly.com.

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