Volunteering Money And Time To Fulfill America's Dreams

April 25, 1997|By Carl T. Rowan

WASHINGTON -- It could turn out to be as important to America, socially and economically, as the GI Bill of Rights.

It could expand the horizons of children who need books to read, glasses with which to read them, tutors for math and science and overall caring guidance -- to the point that it would reduce drastically America's so-called underclass. And that would ensure a more tranquil future for all of us.

I am referring to retired Gen. Colin Powell's dramatic, unprecedented campaign for volunteerism that is to be launched Sunday in Philadelphia, where President Clinton and three former U.S. presidents are to hold their politically nonpartisan Presidents' Summit for America's Future.

The most notable thing about the event is that President Clinton and former Presidents Ford, Carter and Bush are joining Mr. Powell and at least half the nation's governors in a plea to corporations and individuals to volunteer money and time to broaden the opportunities and fulfill the basic dreams of 15 million disadvantaged American children.

America's leadership is saying loudly that the youngsters now trapped in poverty, sickness, crime, sex and drug abuse are not hopeless, uneducable burdens doomed by God to be worthless.

It is a remarkable leadership stance in a time when millions of Americans have swallowed the "Bell Curve" bull that governmental and charitable programs to lift the so-called underclass are colossal wastes because those in the underclass are inherently inferior, intellectually, morally and otherwise.

It is of monumental importance to have the nation's leaders reject such slander, and to say that not only can we help make deprived youngsters proud contributors to this society, but we must do it to avoid the raging anger produced by scorning and oppressing them.

I liken the initiative to the GI Bill because that program, which provided for federally financed education after World War II, lifted millions of former soldiers and sailors, whose families lacked learning and money, into middle- and upper-class status. I am one of the former GIs who benefited.

No substitute for government

The second great thing about the movement for increased volunteerism is that its leaders are not pretending that it can be a substitute for government social programs. Mr. Powell is emphatic in saying that the billions of dollars of volunteerism that he is calling for can never be a substitute for government financing of education, medical, welfare and other social programs.

The third point to note with pride and hope is that more than 150 corporations and many universities, civic groups and individuals already have responded positively to appeals by Mr. Powell and the presidents. They have agreed to build safe playgrounds and after-school havens for children with working parents, give free health coverage to children who don't have ordinary access to it, provide Internet training, offer scholarships and give education on drugs and training in personal safety.

If the program comes to full fruition and maintains enthusiastic support for the long run, America clearly will become a wondrous place -- not just for long-deprived children, but for all of us.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 4/25/97

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