Kennedy’s speech, King’s legacy resonates across generations

Posted on: February 27, 2018, by :

But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.” – Robert F. Kennedy, April 4, 1968

Abie Robinson was an angry young black man in 1968.

Just returned from Vietnam.

He came home to a country in turmoil, divided along lines of race and politics.

“I remember being so angry, coming back to Indianapolis as a 22-year-old to a country where I couldn’t…” he trailed off in remembered frustration.

Abie was in the crowd on April 4, 1968, at 17th and Broadway, when presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy spoke to a crowd of about 2,500 people, many of whom were like Abie, young, black and ready to demand their rights as citizens of this country.

Those in attendance thought the speech would be one of inspiration, a call to register to vote, to continue the work, the mission of Montgomery, of Selma – of King and JFK.

“His words that night quieted my anger and changed my life,” Abie said.

Abie is working with Urban Media Project and area high school and college students for the upcoming “Speak Your Truth” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s speech announcing the assassination of Martin Luther King.

“What I realized that night of Kennedy’s speech was how every individual can make a difference,” Abie said.

Now 50 years later Indianapolis is among the most violent cities in the nation, ranked 12th in 2016, according to the FBI, with much of the violence in neighborhoods with largely African-American populations. With few student media opportunities in Indianapolis schools, Urban Media Project’s staff of IPS alumni will lead student participants in developing a vision for the community inspired by the life of Dr. Martin Luther King and the words of Robert Kennedy.

Urban Media Project brought its “Speak Your Truth“ session to the Student Council at Arsenal Tech on Feb. 21. Tech alumni and UMP staff Donnovan Nance, October Kniess and Myron Russell led a discussion on the young people’s views regarding racism, violence and solutions.

A 1963 Tech grad, Abie talked to the students about the impact of the speech on his life and its legacy today. This is the first of several planned Speak Your Truth sessions to give young people a voice and a forum to collaborate, communicate and commemorate the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s speech and King’s death April 4, 2018.

Back to 1968 – shortly before Kennedy’s plane landed in Indianapolis, the senator learned Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

Change in script.

City officials and his own staff warned Kennedy they couldn’t guarantee his safety in the predominately black part of Indianapolis, but he insisted on going and rewrote his speech on the way from the airport.

“I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world; and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee,” Kennedy said. “Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.”

For Abie that direction took a 360-degree turn – full circle.

“I think a lot about what he said that night and how I came from there to here,” he said. Here is in a small office with a window that frames the Kennedy-King Memorial at 17th and Broadway.

Abie’s official title is manager of Kennedy-King Memorial Park and director of senior programs for Indy Parks. But the mission of his heart is carrying on the legacy and sharing the impact of Kennedy and King’s legacies.

He speaks to students from nearby schools, including IPS School 29, Herron High School, the Oakes Academy and Charity Dye Elementary, as well as working with Desmond Tutu fellows from Butler University and the Christian Theological Seminary.

Robinson just recently returned from his tenth mission trip to Liberia, West Africa, where he supports an orphanage ministry that assists college-aged orphans to continue their education. “I’m fascinated by the fact that I now manage the city park where my commitment to service began.” He and Linda, his wife of 38 years, have raised three children and have two grandchildren.

Kennedy’s words still resonate in his daily life.

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

Many credit Kennedy’s speech with making a difference that night in Indianapolis. When other cities erupted in riots and violence, Indianapolis remained quiet and calm.

“What I realized that night of Kennedy’s speech was how every individual can make a difference,” Abie said.

“We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another,” Kennedy said on April 4, 1968. “Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.”

Martin Luther King was 39 when he was killed and his important accomplishments and the milestones of the Civil Rights movement came when young people demanded the rights and freedoms embedded in the Constitution. Kennedy and King’s words now echo across half a century as a new generation takes the lead in charting America’s future course.

To help young people in Indianapolis “Speak Their Truth,” or to host a session for your school or organization, contact Donna Griffin, founder and CEO Dani’s Dreams Innovation in Education Corp. at or log on to

Donna Griffin is the founder and CEO of Urban Media Project and Dani’s Dreams Innovation in Education Corp.

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