Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release July 22, 1998


Old Executive Office

10:55 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. If I had any sense at all, I would not say a word. (Laughter.) I've got to tell you, before I came over here, my staff all gathered very solemnly in the Oval Office and they said, now, you know, there's going to be a lot of preachers there today. (Laughter.) And Reverend Anthony said he was going to be moved by the spirit. You stick to the text. We don't want you to get too moved by the spirit. (Laughter.) I don't know if I can honor that.

Let me say before I begin, I was just handed a note -- I think it's appropriate since we have so many ministers here that -- one of our greatest astronauts, Alan Shepard, has just passed away. Those of us who are old enough to remember the first space flights will always remember what an impression he made on us and on the world. And so I would like to express the gratitude of our nation and to say that our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Let me begin by thanking all the people who are here: Eric Holder and Ray Fisher, all the people at the Justice Department who have done such a good job. Commissioner Evans, it's good to see you again, and I never get tired of hearing the story of what Boston has done. Reverend Anthony, thank you for your wonderful statement and the power of your example. I thank Congressmen Cummings and Cardin who are here from Maryland. And two Senators who have supported this program very strongly and were not able to come at the last minute -- I want to acknowledge Senator Joe Biden and Senator Carol Moseley-Braun.

I thank Mayor Alan Styles from Salinas, California; Mayor James Garner from Hempstead, New York; Mayor Marion Berry from Washington; Mayor Kurt Schmoke from Baltimore; and Mayor and Reverend Emanual Cleaver from Kansas City, Missouri, for being here. The Chief of Police of Washington, D.C., Charles Ramsey is here; Reuben Greenberg from Charleston, South Carolina; Michelle Mitchell from Richmond. There are children here from Brown Junior High School and from Baltimore and from Philadelphia -- we welcome you all.

This is really about what we can do together to save our children and to strengthen our country's future. For all the good things that are happening in America -- unemployment, inflation, crime, welfare the lowest in somewhere between 25 and 32 years, depending on the statistic -- we have to understand that there are still too many of our children who are left out and left behind, and that in order to honor our solemn responsibilities as citizens and our fundamental moral duties as human beings, we have to do a better job.

I am gratified that crime is at a 25-year low. Surely, the improving economy had something to do with it. But I am persuaded that the lion's share of credit goes to people -- those nameless people Reverend Anthony spoke about -- who wear uniforms and who work in churches and other religious institutions, who work in schools and work on streets and who talk to their kids at home at night. What is working in America is a community-based, prevention-oriented, broad-based partnership to try to bring crime down and bring our kids back. And the faith community has an important role to play.

I noted -- one of the things that I remembered about the first time I went to Boston and met with the Mayor's Youth Council is it was being run by a Roman Catholic nun. Everybody showed up, they were on time. (Laughter.) It ran like clockwork -- it was great. (Laughter.) Including me -- we all did our part.

And I think it is important to say that this community-based, prevention-oriented, broad-based partnership represented by the children and the adults here, including the members of the faith community, that it is working. And what we want to do today is to see it work everywhere in America.

You heard Commissioner Evans say that in Boston, police, prosecutors, principals, pastors -- they all got together around the table. They called on everybody to take responsibility to stop gangs and guns and drugs and to change attitudes -- above all, to change attitudes -- how people look at themselves, how they look at other people, whether they treat them with respect. And they recognized that the only strategy that will work in the long run is one that keeps our children out of trouble in the first place.

I can't help noting that I've had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time in the city of Chicago. You all clapped when the mention was made of our commitment to before- and after-school programs. There are now over 40,000 children, I believe, that get three square meals a day in the Chicago school system -- they stay through supper. And the summer school is now the sixth largest school district in the United States. And a lot of the kids have to go because they don't make good enough grades during the year. But because it's a positive thing, the community groups, the parents groups, everybody supports it. It's a way of building a good future for our children.

So that's what we're here to celebrate, and to emphasize that there is a critical, fundamental role for the faith community in teaching our children a sense of right and wrong and self-discipline and respect. Boston's pastors and faith communities took the lead. Often, they are the most stable institutions left in unstable neighborhoods. I think it is important that these mentors saw in each child a cause and not just a case file; a future, not just a present full of problems.

When young people learn to turn to values, then they turn away from gangs. That was the message of what Reverend Anthony said more eloquently than I could. When they learn the basic rules of right and wrong, then they can reject the rules of the street. If it's true in Boston, if it's true in Washington, if it's true anywhere, it can be true everywhere. And that is what we're here about.

If something can happen somewhere, it is our duty to make sure it happens everywhere. Indeed, that has been the whole philosophy behind this administration's anticrime efforts. When I was Governor, I worked a lot on these issues at home. Very often I would work with religious leaders -- Christian leaders, Jewish leaders; in my state Black Muslims were often quite active in community-based efforts to save our children. But the thing that struck me was that there was never a system. And the thing that Boston has done so well is that they have created a system within which everybody has a role to play where they can be most effective. And it has worked.

Last year researchers at Harvard found that urban neighborhoods, with a strong sense of community and shared values, had much, much lower crime rates than those without it -- big surprise. But when you hear people in my position, or elected officials talking about crime, how often do you hear them talk about that? You get more emotion on the meter readers if you give some rough, tough speech about jails and punishment. Well, we have to have jails and people who do the wrong things have to be punished. But we will never jail our way out of America's problems, and you know that. (Applause.)

I want to thank Exhibit A here for coming -- if I could call him that -- Reverend Eugene Rivers, who's sitting behind me. I thank him for being here. He has gotten to know some of Boston's most troubled children, welcoming them to his parish, Baker House, offering counseling, recreation and an occasional pizza party; introducing children who have known nothing but chaos at home to the serenity of prayer. He mediates fights, visits homes, shows up at school when they get in trouble. He has been there for his kids, making them understand that God cares about each and every one of them and he cares whether they do well. (Applause.)

He cares whether they get an A or an F on a test, whether they get in a fight or get a citation for doing good at school. They will be praised when they succeed, disciplined when they fail. Two of his children are with him today: Kenyatta Moon and Tony Barry. Growing up hasn't been easy for either of them. But with Reverend Rivers' help they have stayed on track. Tony is taking college prep courses; Kenyatta will begin college this fall. Congratulations. (Applause.)

You know, we have worked very hard to open the doors of college to all Americans, to give scholarships and tax credits and to make sure, in effect, we can make two years of college virtually free to nearly everyone in this country -- but you still have to get in. And this is very, very important, what is being done. I know there are many more just like Reverend Rivers, and just like these young people, doing good things across this country -- more like our wonderful speaker, who gave me such a powerful introduction. What we have to do is to give all of them the tools they need to succeed.

That is what we're here to do today. Today I am glad and proud to announce that we will be making new value-based violence prevention grants to 16 communities across our country, to help law enforcement, schools, businesses and faith communities together work to prevent truancy, mentor, teach values, and offer children positive alternatives to gangs and drugs.

Congress, too, must act because 16 is not enough. In the juvenile justice bill, which I modeled in large measure on the Boston success story, there are funds for more of these kinds of programs. We need these funds. We need more funds for before- and after-school programs, for the summer school programs, for the community-based programs. We need these funds. (Applause.) Our role here in Washington on this is to give people the tools and to clear away the obstacles necessary to have more success stories.

I can't thank the mayors and the police chiefs who are here enough for the examples that they have set in their own communities.

Carl Sandburg once said that a baby is God's opinion that the world should go on. Well, when we lose our children, we are thwarting the opinion of God. We are blessed with our children. They will be America in the 21st century. What America will be depends upon what we do to help them become all they can be. That depends upon us. It is our responsibility.

I can't tell you how moved I am by all the stories I have read, all the examples I have seen, all the work that has been done by the people that are in this room, and the people they represent all across America. Some of them have been out there for years and years and years. but now they have found a way to work together that will have dramatic, profound and permanent success. We owe it to them to help them.

We're taking a big first step today, and if Congress will give me the funds, we'll put the welfare of the American people first. Even in an election year, let's not let partisanship get in the way of this critical mission. We will see these stories sweep across this country, and we'll have a lot more children to celebrate.

Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)

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