By Tony Castro, Staff Writer | LA Newspaper Group (Daily News)
October 11, 2009 -- On the grounds of the old Ambassador Hotel where Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, officials Saturday dedicated a site of national tragedy into one of potential local triumph.
Two of Kennedy's grandchildren were among those who witnessed ribbon-cutting ceremonies for a new elementary education facility featuring two pilot schools.
"This is sacred ground," labor leader and Kennedy friend Dolores Huerta told about 500 people who attended the dedication.
The ceremony marked the culmination of a long political battle to raze the famed hotel and convert the 24-acre grounds into an urban school site. In addition to the new elementary schools, a new Robert F. Kennedy High School is scheduled to open in September 2010.
"My father was a champion of those who suffered disadvantages in America," Kennedy's son Maxwell said in a statement released by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
"This new K-12 learning center will educate and empower our young people and their parents to fight for economic and social justice. "I know of no better way to advance the living legacy of Robert Kennedy."
When complete, the educational complex will serve 4,400 students in grades K-12 in heavily Latino neighborhood west of downtown.
"My dream has been to make the schools a living memorial to Robert Kennedy," said Paul Schrade, a former senior aide to the late senator and head of the RFK-12 Community Task Force, the local group that worked toward construction of the learning complex.
Among obstacles that had to be overcome were Donald Trump's dream to build five towers at the site, one of them 125 stories tall, plans by Wal-Mart to put a store at the location and a movement by the Los Angeles Conservancy to preserve the landmark.
"Robert Kennedy told us what makes life worthwhile is the health of our children and the quality of their education," said Schrade.
Kennedy was gunned down at the Ambassador Hotel just minutes after winning the Democratic Party's 1968 California primary, an attack in which Schrade was also wounded.
LAUSD school board President Monica Garcia said Kennedy's message is "alive with us as we celebrate the opening of not one, but two exciting new pilot schools."
"We are inspired by the memory of Senator Kennedy who reminds us every day that we each have something to contribute," Garcia said. "And he reminds us every day that we can absolutely do better."
●● what smf said at the RFK-12 ribboncutting:
The good news is that I'm the last speaker today.
The really good news is that the youngsters behind me haven’t waited for any of us to sit down and shut up to play on the playground equipment behind this stage!
President Obama reminded us yesterday that we rise to meet challenges far more often than we solve them. This city and this school district have risen to meet the challenges of overcrowding and forced busing and the year round calendar; of disrepair and lack of vision. Those will, in time certain, be obstacles in the rear view mirror, thanks to the voters and taxpayers of this city.
Other challenges loom: Class sizes and underinvestment; a misunderstanding of the roles of art and music and physical activity in education and society. You kids must rise and meet the challenge of education and education reform --- you must rise to it, accept it and make the best of it …here in this new school, your new school – and onward – ever onward …into the high school that will be part of this incredible complex – and on to colleges and universities and art schools - to law school and medical school and engineering school; architecture school, trade school and business school.
Be safe here, Make lifelong friends. Do good work. Learn from your mistakes. Have fun.
It is a hero's journey: You must go forth …and come back and build the future. That is the dream and the vision and the promise of RFK-12.
Robert Kennedy made Bernard Shaw’s words his own: "Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not”. Those words, Boys and Girls, must be your words; those dreams must be your dreams. THEN we will be the City of Angeles we aspire to be.
Dare to dream. Ask "Why not?" Re-imagine the American Dream. Your dreams are our future.
Because you, the students, are the magic, and the promise.