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Remarks By President Bill Clinton, President George Bush, President Jimmy Carter, President Gerald Ford, General Colin Powell, Mrs. Nancy Reagan, and Vice President Al Gore

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Office of the Press Secretary
(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

For Immediate Release
April 28, 1997

Remarks By President Bill Clinton,
President George Bush, President Jimmy Carter,
President Gerald Ford, General Colin Powell,
Mrs. Nancy Reagan, and Vice President Al Gore

Independence National Historical Park
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

9:49 A.M. EDT

GENERAL POWELL: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. You look wonderful out there this morning. They were worried last night that the rain would wash this out, and as early as this morning there were calls flying around town at 5:00 a.m. in the morning, should we move it. The answer was, it will not rain, not on this parade, not today, not with what we've got going on. And it did not and it will not. (Applause.)

Over 200 years ago, a group of volunteers gathered on this sacred spot to found a new nation. In perfect words, they voiced their dreams and aspirations of an imperfect world. They pledged their lives, their fortune and their sacred honor to secure inalienable rights given by God for life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness -- pledged that they would provide them to all who would inhabit this new nation.

They look down on us today in spirit, with pride for all we have done to keep faith with their ideals and their sacrifices. Yet, despite all we have done, this is still an imperfect world. We still live in an imperfect society. Despite more than two centuries of moral and material progress, despite all our efforts to achieve a more perfect union, there are still Americans who are not sharing in the American Dream. There are still Americans who are not sharing in the American Dream. There are still Americans who wonder: is the journey there for them, is the dream there for them, or, whether it is, at best, a dream deferred.

The great American poet, Langston Hughes, talked about a dream deferred, and he said, "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun, or fester like a sore and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags, like a heavy load. Or, does it explode?"

For too many young Americans, that dream deferred does sag like a heavy load that's pushing them down into the ground, and they wonder if they can rise up with that load. And as we see too often in our daily life, it does explode in violence, in youngsters falling dead, shot by other youngsters. It does explode, and it has the potential to explode our society.

So today, we gather here today to pledge that the dream must no longer be deferred and it will never, as long as we can do anything about it, become a dream denied. That is why we are here, my friends. (Applause.) We gather here to pledge that those of us who are more fortunate will not forsake those who are less fortunate. We are a compassionate and caring people. We are a generous people. We will reach down, we will reach back, we will reach across to help our brothers and sisters who are in need.

Above all, we pledge to reach out to the most vulnerable members of the American family, our children. As you've heard, up to 15 million young Americans today are at risk. They are at risk of growing up unskilled, unlearned or, even worse, unloved. They are at risk of growing up physically or psychologically abused. They are at risk of growing up addicted to the pathologies and poisons of the street. They are at risk of bringing up children into the world before they, themselves have grown up. They are at risk of never growing up at all. Fifteen million young lives are at risk, may not make it unless we care enough to do something about it.

In terms of numbers, the task may seem staggering. But if we look at the simple needs that these children have, then the task is manageable, the goal is achievable. We know what they need. They need an adult caring person in their life, a safe place to learn and grow, a healthy start, marketable skills and an opportunity to serve so that early in their lives they learn the virtue of service so that they can reach out then and touch another young American in need.

These are basic needs that we commit ourselves today, we promise today. We are making America's promise today to provide to those children in need. This is a grand alliance. It is an alliance between government and corporate America and nonprofit America, between our institutions of faith, but especially between individual Americans.

You heard the governors and the mayors, and you'll hear more in a little minute that says the real answer is for each and every one of us, not just here in Philadelphia, but across this land -- for each and every one of us to reach out and touch someone in need.

All of us can spare 30 minutes a week or an hour a week. All of us can give an extra dollar. All of us can touch someone who doesn't look like us, who doesn't speak like us, who may not dress like us, but, by God, needs us in their lives. And that's what we all have to do to keep this going.

And so there's a spirit of Philadelphia here today. There's a spirit of Philadelphia that we saw yesterday in Germantown. There is a spirit of Philadelphia that will leave Philadelphia tomorrow afternoon and spread across this whole nation -- 30 governors will go back and spread it; over a 100 mayors will go back and spread it, and hundreds of others, leaders around this country who are watching will go back and spread it. Corporate America will spread it, nonprofits will spread it. And each and every one of us will spread it because it has to be done, we have no choice. We cannot leave these children behind if we are going to meet the dreams of our founding fathers.

And so let us all join in this great crusade. Let us make sure that no child in America is left behind, no child in America has their dream deferred or denied. We can do it. We can do it because we are Americans. We are Americans who draw our strength from this place. We are Americans who believe to the depth of our hearts that this is not a land that was put here by historic accident, it is a land that was put here by Divine Providence who told us to be good stewards of the land, but especially to be good stewards of each other. Divine Providence gave us this land, blessed it and told us always to be proud to call it America.

And so we go forward. Let's go save our children. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

* * * *

VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you, Oprah. To all of the distinguished guests; President and Mrs. Clinton, and former President and Mrs. Bush; former President Ford; Mrs. Reagan; General Powell and Mrs. Powell; to the governors and mayors and senators and congressmen and Cabinet members; and most of all, the volunteers: This is an historic day. And I want to thank you, Oprah, and once again thank you, General Colin Powell, for organizing this project and for standing strong for America's children. We're grateful to you, the whole country is. (Applause.)

In the Bible, Proverbs counsels us, "Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is in your power to act." And later in Isaiah, we learn, "If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noon day."

Today, in America, more and more citizens are realizing that it is within our power to act. And across America, noon day is spreading a warm light of compassion and commitment, a new spirit of service in America. We're seeing it right now in North Dakota, where tens of thousands of relief workers and volunteers responded instantly and selflessly to those terrible floods. President Clinton and I have seen these quiet American heroes in action firsthand, and we have all been inspired by what they are doing right now to help neighbors in distress. That's the American way.

We saw this spirit of service six days ago on Earth Day, Americans of today honoring their duty to Americans of tomorrow by pledging to be good stewards of the environment -- to make sure subsequent generations inherit air, water and land that is clean, healthy and safe.

We saw it 10 days ago on NetDay, when tens of thousands of Americans came together to pull cable, install software, hook up computers and connect America's classrooms to the Information Superhighway. And we saw it last year, especially throughout the South, when neighbors, black and white, joined hands to hold back the forces of hate and rebuild churches and synagogues and other houses of worship that had burned to the ground, and say, we won't stand for it here in the United States of America. We're one nation, one community, under God and we're coming together to help one another. (Applause.)

And we saw it yesterday here in Philadelphia on Germantown Avenue. This spirit service is both rich with tradition and fresh with possibility. It is as timeless as Independence Day and as modern as NetDay, as old as America and as young as AmeriCorps. And we, all of us, must do everything we can do to keep this spirit growing.

The work of this summit is just beginning. Its goal, of course: to provide 2 million young Americans access to opportunity and opportunity and the fundamental resources they need by the year 2000 -- 2 million by 2000. We can begin by really hearing what others have to say. Indeed, sometimes the greatest act of service we can perform is to listen carefully, especially when we listen to our children.

So let's listen to them now. Two weeks ago, the summit invited young playwrights and students from all over America to create an open letter that would tell grownups how they see the goal of this summit. Here now is a peek behind the scenes at these young Americans wrestling with the same issues that confront us all.

(A film is shown.)

* * * * *

PRESIDENT FORD: As we meet at this historic hall to begin this crusade of giving, sharing and caring for the American family across the land, especially the 15 million young girls and boys who need our help, we should be optimistic, not pessimistic.

Sadly, every day the news media reports the growing number of broken homes, inadequate single family problems, drug problems rampant in our schools and on our streets, with gang warfare loose in metropolitan communities. Should we surrender? Should we capitulate to the worst elements and the challenges in our society? The answer is, emphatically, no. (Applause.)

We in America, thank goodness, have the tools to win this war. The solution is local and personal with generous financial support across the land. Yes, in our hometowns, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Canadian border to the Caribbean, people and organizations can turn disasters to success.

I personally am optimistic because I've seen firsthand a Boy Scout scoutmaster take a tenderfoot or a troop from the worst circumstances and redirect their lives. The same, of course, is true with the Girl Scouts, the Campfire Girls. Again, as mentors we see identical benefits, from the Big Brothers, Big Sisters, the Boys and Girls Clubs throughout America. During the terrible economic Depression of the 1930s, I witnessed firsthand the uplifting impact of an athletic coach on a player or on a team when their families were on welfare or actually in bread lines. Today, the parent coaches of Little League teams do a superb jobs as mentors, teaching not only teamwork, but athletic skills and healthy habits.

A pat on the back and sound advice can help a troubled boy or a troubled girl in despair. A top-notch mentor can combine winning the game and winning the life. Our churches and synagogues, from the pulpit to the Sunday school teacher, can reach out, embrace the youth in their congregation. I've always admired the wonderful, unselfish work of the individual members of the Salvation Army. Today they are successful mentors because of their spotless dedication to helping America's youth.

A major goal of this summit is to recruit voluntary mentors who are willing to listen to and stand by a youth through joys as well as frustrations. Our mentors must have that unique ability to help the child discover and develop his or her talents. Right now, young Americans need 2 million volunteer mentors who will be caring adults. We warmly welcome volunteers from all walks of life in this great land to join in this critical crusade. By stepping forward in this crisis, you can have a tremendous impact and a tremendous benefit in the challenge to save our youth. What we do here and what you do in this decade can make a better America for the next century.

I say to all of you throughout the land, the door of opportunity is wide, wide open. Please join Colin Powell and all the others at this historic summit. This is truly a call to national service. Thank you. (Applause.)

* * * * *

PRESIDENT CARTER: (speaking by videotape.) -- to a child finding his or her way in the world, this should not be a privilege, it should be a right. If your street isn't safe, fear is your constant companion. If your school and playground aren't safe, your focus is on surviving, not learning. If your home isn't safe, you have nowhere else to go. This summit recognizes this by designating a safe place one of the five fundamental resources. Kids need a place where they can just be kids, where they can play, learn, grow without constantly looking over their shoulders.

At the Carter Center, we have a program called Atlanta Project, founded on the bedrock of volunteerism. A couple of years ago thousands of volunteers fanned out across some of Atlanta's poorest neighborhoods. Going door to door, these volunteers asked their neighbors to list their major concerns and to suggest ways to improve their quality of life. It will not surprise you to learn that the number one concern was safety.

It's true in cities across our nation. Activities that most of us take for granted, such as going out to play ball or sitting in a school classroom are fraught with peril for children and their parents. Let me share with you some of the stories I heard. One woman said that she never goes out after dark and doesn't allow her children to go out, either. "We are," she said, "prisoners in our home." Another mother told Rosalyn and me that she has knots in her stomach from the time her young son leaves for school until he returns. Because of the violence of her community, she's waiting for the day when he doesn't come home at all. "It won't really surprise me," she said.

That was one of the saddest statements I've ever heard. Several young people, both boys and girls, talked about the pressure they feel to join gangs. Without his gang to protect him, one young man said, he was sure he would be dead. A 12-year-old boy said his ambition in life is to own a semiautomatic machine gun. "I don't expect to live past the age of 20," he told us, "so why does it matter what I do with my life?"

Finally, we spoke with several young women -- children, really -- pregnant with their first, second, or even third child, who are resigned to a life of poverty and fear. These are children whose spirits have been broken, who feel there's no hope for a brighter future. They and their parents do not have confidence in the very institutions -- law enforcement, the judicial system, schools -- that were set up to serve all people.

This summit can be the beginning of a renewed commitment to our children. But the real revolution will take place only if we carry this new spirit of Philadelphia back to our own neighborhoods and turn it into action. The divisions between those of us who have many opportunities and those who feel they have none are growing deeper. Children are dying, in body and spirit.

I urge you to reach out from the safety and security of your life and extend a helping hand to someone who really knows only fear. Hand in hand, we can create a network that will ensure that our children will do more than just survive, they will thrive. Thank you. (Applause.)

* * * * *

MRS. REAGAN: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you, Christina, and thank you very much for asking me here today to help begin this wonderful campaign.

I wish so much that my husband could be here. He would remind us that we're celebrating the best of America, that unique heritage that has always inspired us -- individuals and organizations have banded together since our nation began to help when there was a need. Some have been at it for years. For instance, Save The Children began in 1932, and is continuing to help all over the world.

You know, in my experience, whether it was the foster grandparents program in California, or the private sector initiative in Washington, or the Just Say No campaign to stop drugs, I've always found that when I give I received tenfold in return.

Ronnie's dream remains that America will be that shining city on the hill, and to make that dream come true we must never fall short in our efforts to ensure that every child in America can fly as high as his or her dreams will take them.

Ronnie is such a caring person. He's always been moved by human kindness. So, for him and for me, I ask a special favor of everyone watching or listening today. From this day forward, when someone asks you to help a child, just say, "yes." (Applause.) Thank you. (Applause.)

* * * * *

PRESIDENT BUSH: The American Dream is one of the most stirring phrases I know, and it means so many things to so many people all over the world. It means the freedom to worship your own God in your own way without fear of persecution. It means freedom of speech and assembly, and, perhaps most importantly, the freedom to vote. And these are wonderful freedoms. But sometimes I'm afraid we all take them for granted.

And, yet, the American Dream also means something else. It means the opportunity to go as far in life as your abilities will take you. Anyone in America can aspire to be a doctor, a teacher, a police officer or even, as Oprah said, a President. But you can't get any of those important jobs if you don't have the opportunity to acquire the skills you need. You need to learn your job, whatever your dream, before you can do your job. And that's why I believe that the key to the American Dream is education.

And at the most basic level, it gets down to one "R" -- reading. Barbara and I are deeply troubled to know that 2,300 teenagers drop out of school every day. And this is more than a terrible loss to America, it's an epidemic. It just seems wrong that 6.5 million American kids between kindergarten and the 3rd grade are growing up illiterate. Something has gone wrong.

But I am thankful that something right is starting to happen at this summit, because Americans are starting to take it upon themselves to point our kids in the right direction on the road that leads to the American Dream. And the commitments made toward this end are simply terrific. Continental Cable Vision is going to provide free Internet connections to 3 million youngsters by the year 2000. Another great organization, the General Federation of Women's Clubs, is establishing volunteer tutoring and literacy centers in 6,500 towns and cities across this country. (Applause.) And another, Scholastic Books, will donate one million books to the American Reads project to help us reach our goal of a hundred percent literacy for every child by grade three. (Applause.)

You know, humanity has produced few documents more beautiful than the one that Jefferson, Madison and the other founding fathers sweated over here in Philadelphia some 220 years ago -- life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are magnificent words to live by. But you can't understand them if you can't read them.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

* * * * *

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, I want to begin by taking Matthew and Teevee (phonetic) and Christina and Jamil (phonetic) and Christy (phonetic) for introducing the Presidents and Mrs. Reagan. They reminded us of what this summit is all about.

I thank President and Mrs. Bush, President and Mrs. Carter, President Ford, Mrs. Reagan, Vice President and Mrs. Gore for their devotion to this endeavor. I thank Harris Wofford and Bob Goodwin, the President of the Points of Light Foundation; Henry Cisneros and Linda Robb; and all the others who have worked for this day. I say a special word of thanks to all the public officials who have come from all over our country -- members of Congress, governors, lieutenant governors and others. But, particularly, I want to thank General Colin Powell.

At our last meeting, when he was about to retire as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I asked him if there was another mission which might bring him back into public life. He said he wanted to help children who didn't have what they needed to succeed in life and who needed the chance to serve America.

Well, General, this may be your most important mission, and I want to thank you for reenlisting. Thank you. (Applause.)

I thank my friend, Mayor Rendell, and the wonderful people of Philadelphia; Governor Ridge and the people of Pennsylvania who have made us feel so welcome.

We come here before the house where America was born. The place where we, the people, took the first step on our centuries-old journey to form a more perfect union. On the last day of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin walked out of this hall and encountered a woman anxious to know what had gone on inside. She asked him, "Well, Doctor, what have we got? A monarchy or a republic?" Mr. Franklin replied, "A republic --if you can keep it."

For more than 200 years, we have struggled to keep this republic. It is an enduring and endless challenge, for endemic in human nature and human frailty are successive generations of problems. But we have always succeeded in making our union more perfect. Consider how imperfect it was when we had people in this country who weren't even treated as people, but slaves. Consider how imperfect it was when children could be forced to work long hours into the night in dangerous conditions. Consider how imperfect it was when women, now more than half the population of America, could not even vote.

So when you get discouraged, remember, we have succeeded in over 200 years in forming a more perfect union. (Applause.) We have succeeded because we've had a brilliant free enterprise system. We have succeeded because we had flexible constitutional, evolving, effective government at every level. But we have succeeded mostly because in the gaps between what is done by government and what is done by the private economy, citizens have found ways to step forward and move our country forward, and lift our people up. Citizen service is the story of our more perfect union.

Now we live in one of the great moments of change in our history, more full of promise, as President Ford said, than any period of America's past. More of these children behind me, and more of these children out here on these streets of Philadelphia, will have more chances to live out the future of their dreams than any generation of American children in history if the citizens of this country step forward to fill the gaps in their live and in our national life to form a more perfect union. (Applause.)

But let us not be blind to the facts. Even with all the progress that together we have made -- with 12 million new jobs and a record drop in welfare rolls and years of dropping crime rates -- you and I know that millions of our children are being left behind in lives of too much danger, too many drugs, too little hope and not enough opportunity. You and I know that too many people are out there doing the very best they can and still not keeping up, much less moving forward.

Yes, there are things that the government should do. None of us stand here, President and former Presidents, to say that we must not do our responsibility. Of course, we should do better with our schools. Of course, we should open the doors of college to everyone. Of course, all our children should have health care coverage. Of course, we can do more to make our streets safer. But even if we do everything we should, you and I know that a lot of the problems facing our children are problems of the human heart -- problems that can only be resolved when there is a one-on-one connection, community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street, home by home, with every child in this country entitled to live out their God-given destiny. You know it is true. (Applause.)

I am proud of the fact that because of the computer and microsolutions to problems we don't need big government bureaucracies to do some of the things that used to be done. But as I have said repeatedly, the era of big government may be over, but the era of big challenges for our country is not, and so we need an era of big citizenship. That is why we are here, and that is what we should promise ourselves we will do. (Applause.)

Let me say one other thing, too. Look at these kids behind me. They're America's future -- all of them. And when you think of what is tearing the world apart today -- the racial, the ethnic, the religious hatreds, from Bosnia to Northern Ireland to the Middle East to Africa -- and you look at the children behind me and you realize what a gift from God our diversity is, you know that if we know each other, if we serve each other, if we work with each other, one of the things that will happen is, we will make sure that our diversity is a rich resource to make our union more perfect, not an instrument of our national undoing in the 21st century. (Applause.)

We cherish our citizen volunteers. There are already more than 90 million of us, and after this summit there will be more. Especially because General Powell, Ray Chambers and others have organized a follow-up to this. And the really important work of this summit will begin after my talk's over, when you go into the workshops and the meetings and make a commitment that in every community there will be a systematic, disciplined, comprehensive effort to deal with the five areas outlined as the challenges for our young people. That is what really matters here.

Young people, above all, however, have the time, the energy and the idealism for this kind of citizen service. Before they have their own families, the young can make a unique contribution to the family of America. In doing so, they can acquire the habit of service and get a deeper understanding of what it really means to be a citizen. That is the main reason, perhaps, we are here.

In Philadelphia, the Superintendent of Schools is working to make service the expected thing in elementary and middle schools. Maryland has required it in high school. And I challenge every state and every school in this country at least to offer in a disciplined, organized way every young person in school a chance to serve. A recent survey said if they were just asked, over 90 percent of them would do it. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves if we don't give them the chance to do that. (Applause.)

Let me also say, of course, that we need some of them to serve full-time. They do, you know, in the Peace Corps. And -- (applause) -- we have some former Peace Corps volunteers out there applauding. But we should all applaud them because they have helped to change the world for the better. (Applause.) And they do in AmeriCorps, the national service program that was started in our administration. (Applause.) The idea behind AmeriCorps was to instill an ethic of mutual responsibility in our children so that young people could improve their own lives in return for improving the life of America.

Since its creation, 50,000 young Americans have earned college tuition by serving their communities in many ways. And we know that the typical full-time community servant recruits at least a dozen more volunteers. I saw that in North Dakota when I went to see what the Red River had done to Grand Forks and to the rest of North Dakota and Minnesota. I saw our young AmeriCorps volunteers and I knew that because they were able to serve full-time they'd be there when the waters receded, the mess was there, the people had to put their lives back together and the cameras were gone. I saw it again yesterday when we were working on the streets and on the stadium and on the schools.

The will to serve has never been stronger and more of our young people want to serve full-time. But there's a limit to what we can do now. And, yet, there is a solution -- ironically, one I came to right here in Philadelphia. For here in Philadelphia a minister who is a friend of mine, Reverend Tony Campolo, is helping to organize a movement among churches to get churches to sponsor 10,000 full-time youth volunteers to take a year off from college or defer a year from college under the sponsorship of their churches.

The churches will do what we do in AmeriCorps, helping to provide for the living expenses of the young people. But I think we ought to say to them, at the very least, it shouldn't cost you any money to serve. And so if you've got a college loan and you take a year off to serve under the sponsorship of a religious organization, I'm going to propose legislation to say during that year no interest should accrue on that college loan. It should not cost you any money to serve your country. (Applause.)

But we can do more. We can double the impact of AmeriCorps with the help of our religious and charitable institutions. I want to challenge every charity, every religious group, every community group and their business supporters to give young people the support they need to do a year of community service. If you do that, then in our budget now we will be able to give every one of them the scholarship that AmeriCorps volunteers get for their year of community service. Work with your churches, work with your community organizations, and we can provide that to young people. (Applause.)

Put them to work as mentors, as teachers, as organizers of other volunteers, and we can double the number of full-time youth volunteers by adding another 50,000. By the year 2000, that would mean that in eight years, more children will have served full-time on our streets than have worked in the entire history of the Peace Corps around the world. We can change America, folks, if we'll do it together, hand in hand, community by community. (Applause.)

The same thing is true of the police corps, which offers young people a chance to pay for their college education if they'll be police officers for four years. We can triple the number of young people who do that, and I intend to try. We need more young people going as teachers into our schools. And we must support them in that.

We have to understand that we need a balance between volunteers on a part-time basis, volunteers on a full-time basis, and there is no conflict between the two. We have to understand that we value America's free enterprise system, we know we need our government, but there will never be a time when we need citizen servants more than we need them today, because these children have got to be saved one by one. (Applause.)

And let me say to all of you, the most important people here today are not the Presidents or the General or the governors or the senators. The most important people are those who teach the student to read; who save the health of the infant; who give help to families when all help seems gone. The most important title today is not Senator, Vice President, General, Governor or President. It is, as Harry Truman reminded us so long ago, the most important title any of us will ever hold in this country is the title of citizen.

This is our republic. Let us keep it. Thank you. (Applause.)

And now, I would like to call upon Mrs. Reagan and my fellow Presidents to join me in signing this Summit Declaration, "A Call to Citizen Service to Fulfill the Promise of America." We do this in the hope that in the weeks and months to come, millions and millions and millions of you will join us in putting your names to the declaration, devoting your lives to the mission and beginning the era of big citizenship for the United States.

Thank you and God bless you all. (Applause.)

10:59 A.M. EDT


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Remarks at The Presidents' Summit

Remarks to Students, Teachers, Parents, and AmeriCorps Volunteers

Remarks at Independence National Historical Park

Remarks at Marcus Foster Stadium

The Presidents' Summit for America's Future - Press Briefing