My Birthday Wish

Today is the 30th anniversary of my 30th birthday!  Another milestone; one step closer to the next phase of my journey.  So, I apologize in advance if this is too long, too random, too much free-flowing stream of consciousness and not your normal feel good about everything kind of a blog.  Bear with me, there is a point!
Birthdays are always interesting for me. No longer a big celebration they are more a time to reflect and project — reflect on where I’ve been and project where it is I want to go. That significant professional “pivot” we all must eventually experience is now clearly in my windshield- Retire? Reset? Redirect? What exactly does the future hold?

I’m a political scientist by education, my interests formulated at a very young age. You see, 50 years ago today on April 4th, 1968 – my 10th birthday – Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. That singular event of my youth left an indelible imprint. Living in Muncie, Indiana at the time, I was a very typical Midwestern kid; happy go lucky, not a care in the world, and although the culture shifts happening in America had struck our home through my older brother who was quite active protesting the Vietnam War, I was about as insulated as a young boy growing up in the ’60’s could be.

All of that changed on my 10th birthday. I remember that day like it was yesterday – it was tornado season in Indiana, we had one of those green/orange skies that foretold the nasty weather moving in later. When I came home from a friend’s house – yep, we could ride our bikes all over the place without worrying about being abducted or shot by a random stranger – I saw a vision that would change my life: my Mom standing in front of the TV at the ironing board with tears streaming down her face — a most unusual sight for my Mom! It was my opportunity to probe, listen and be educated about what was really happening in the United States of 1968.

Two months later on June 5th I was at my best friend’s birthday party at the local bowling alley when everything stopped – on a crowded Saturday afternoon in the loudest place in town all you could hear was the sound of Walter Cronkite on the small TV’s suspended from the ceiling. Bobby Kennedy had been shot and would later die at the hands of a disaffected assassin in Los Angeles. MLK and RFK forced this 10-year-old innocent into the trajectory of America in the late ’60’s.

My political sensitivities spawned that year, as well as my interest in discovering a life’s work that could affect change and improve lives. While my path hasn’t been straight, the journey has been fruitful. I am proud to be part of an industry that changes lives. Economic and community development at its root makes communities better; better for the people who live there, better for the people who work there and better for the kids who grow up there.

And yet, while I take some solace that the work we do does have an impact, I wonder what Dr. King and Senator Kennedy would think of the world we live in today? How would they feel about our President? The Russians meddling in our elections? The scourge of random shootings? The opioid crisis? The trillions of dollars in debt we keep adding to the checkbooks of our kids and grandkids? The escalating political and cultural polarization that seems to have gripped our society. You see, it’s my generation that’s “in charge” just now – the tail end of the baby boomers. We are laying the foundation for others to follow and I’m afraid it might be miles of quicksand!

Here’s what I think they would say: “We have to do better”!

While our planet has experienced some ground-breaking milestones over the past 50 years, we are also still woefully behind in so many areas. Racial, ethnic, gender and economic inequality, terrorism, third-world genocide, our schools and public venues are seemingly unsafe because of our inability as a society to agree on the most basic of fundamentals like prioritizing the lives of our children over the right to own an assault style weapon.

I see a country that has come so far, and yet still has so far to go.

In 1968 John Kay of Steppenwolf once said while introducing their legendary song Monster: “despite the things that are wrong in our country, there are too many good things worth saving to let the whole thing go down the drain, so I think we should get together as much as we can and bring about change”.  That statement combined with the narrative of the song provides a prophetic backdrop for where I believe we are today:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yvf9kENZ_ao.

If you don’t have 9 minutes to listen you can read the lyrics here: http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/11420/

Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy and so many others proved we could, in fact, come together and bring about change. They handed us the baton and while I wouldn’t say we’ve dropped it, we are not running an inspiring anchor leg!

We have to do better!

1968 was a turning point for the United States. The youth inspired upheaval that rocked our nation fostered a generation of change. One doesn’t have to look hard to see parallels between then and now. Just as in 1968, today’s America is bitterly divided politically and culturally. The world is in the midst of profound change. Just as my generation of baby boomers were coming of age in 1968 with the promise of seismic change, today’s millennials, with their unique formative influences, are growing more politically active and advocating for their own form of change.

Our 2nd grandchild was born this past January. Grandkids change things. Your perspective, priorities and plans. All for the better I must say. One thing that their arrival has crystallized for me is how precious a young life truly is. It won’t be long before they are attending school and more than anything I want that school to be a safe haven. They say in life you have to learn to pick your battles. One thing that means for me is becoming a one issue voter, with the issue being to protect our children from gun violence because for me, nothing else is more important. After all, if we can’t protect our children, what else is there?

It may not be much, and it might not make a difference. But it might. And that will be my birthday gift to myself! For you it might be something different, but the point is pick YOUR battle! Come off the sidelines and get in the game for whatever it is in which you believe.

Early morning, April four
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride
Songwriters: Adam Clayton / Dave Evans / Larry Mullen / Paul David Hewson

Let’s all have some pride. Let’s all do something to improve the world in which we live. Our country was built by PEOPLE; not governments, clubs, institutions, militaries, but people just like you and me. One step at a time. One decision at a time. The challenges of today can seem insurmountable but just like Dr. King, Senator Kennedy and so many others before and after, if we can just remove the blinders, minimize the polarized emotions and think logically and rationally, taking one step at a time, we too can do our part to fulfill the promise of our forebears.

………….. and that, my friends, is my birthday wish!
Robert Radcliff
Robert Radcliff

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