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In recent years, as our government has faced new and different challenges, the Profile in Courage Award has recognized the public service of people who were not elected officials. Last year we presented the award to Alberto Mora, a Navy lawyer who waged a lonely and unsuccessful battle against the use of cruelty at Guantánamo. We honored ordinary men and women, firefighters, police and emergency workers as well as members of our armed forces who sacrificed themselves for others in the tragic events of Sept. 11, making real the face of courage and inspiring a new generation to serve.
In May, we honored Mayor Bill White and the city of Houston for welcoming 250,000 other Americans after Hurricane Katrinafeeding and housing them, helping them find homes, schools and jobs. This massive effortwhich produced within 36 hours 6,000 comfortable beds, a 24-hour hospital and pharmacy, employment agencies, nurseries, a missing-persons bureau and a cafeteriawas made possible by the work of thousands of volunteers from churches, temples, synagogues and mosques as well as by community organizations, businesses and local government.
Such an outpouring should not be surprising. The past few years have seen an upswing in volunteerism, particularly among younger Americans, leading some to compare the post-9/11 generation with that of the early 1960s. Since 9/11, the number of college students volunteering has grown more than 20%. Many do not, however, view participation in the political process as an equally effective way to solve problems. Yet the Houston experience shows that when all sectors of society work together with a shared vision, great results can be achieved. And it is the responsibility of public officials to articulate that vision. Only they can marshal the resources of an entire community to confront a crisis.
That is why courageous and principled political leadership is critical to the future of our country. President Kennedy embodied that kind of leadership for his generation. Many doubted whether we could find that kind of inspiration among today's politicians. But every year when we present the Profile in Courage Award, I take great pride knowing there are public servants across America who share my father's belief that "politics is a noble profession."
Nominations for the Profile in Courage Award are accepted at jfklibrary.org
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