Public Papers

Remarks at the Commercial Appeal's Thanksgiving Celebration in Memphis, Tennessee


Thank you all very much, Mr. Linder, Mr. Wilhelm -- Mr. Williams, Jerry Friedheim, Loren Ghiglione, who came down with us, and Jerome Ryans; of course, the Governor of this great State, and Reverend Mowery, distinguished Members of Congress, volunteers, ladies and gentlemen, and all you damp pre-Thanksgiving marvelous people. I didn't think anybody would be out here today.

You know, back before the Civil War, just after William Henry Harrison was elected President, Mr. Linder's newspaper was named the Appeal. And the founder renamed it, and he said, as an ``appeal to the sober second thoughts of the people, to elect a Democratic president at the next election.'' Well, with a history like that, you can imagine how lucky I feel to be here today. [Laughter] But I do really feel fortunate to be here, to talk about something that is so vital to our nation and to our future.

Last June -- Mr. Linder referred to -- I gave a speech about something called the Points of Light Initiative. And its goal is to make community service central to the life and work of every individual and every institution in America. And I asked people and groups across the country to think about the special contribution they could make to help others around them in need.

For the news media, I made a special request because no other institution in America has the unique ability of the media to shape public attitudes, to heighten awareness, to mobilize people for action. And I asked members of the media to remind Americans that illiteracy, drug abuse, homelessness, hunger, and other social problems do have solutions. And soon after I announced the Points of Light Initiative, the Commercial Appeal in Memphis responded. Along with reporting and commenting on problems -- which is every paper's right and obligation and responsibility in a free society -- they took on an added responsibility. And they began pointing to solutions. And they started doing profiles of 1,000 individuals and institutional Points of Light last summer, at a time when a lot of people were still trying to figure out what I meant by a Thousand Points of Light. Well, you understood, all of you. And you've brought that idea to life, dramatically.

Tomorrow is our special day. It's a day unique to America, a day when we pause and gather together and give thanks. And it is my hope that by this time next year, a growing community service movement will mean that many Americans will have more to be thankful for. Today, I'd like to challenge every publisher, every broadcaster, every member of the American news media, to follow the lead of the Commercial Appeal. And many have begun to do so. All three of the major networks have started regular features on volunteers in America, and local papers and stations have become involved. And many more can.

For the millions across our great country who want to help others in need but wonder how, this newspaper and this community are showing that there are at least a thousand ways to lead others out of the darkness.

I think of Fred Daniels, a retired salesman, starting what I hear may be the world's best catfish cooking team, formed to raise funds -- there's Fred, right there -- formed to raise funds for charity. Look, he and his friends travel all over towing an 8,000-pound cooker to company picnics, donating the proceeds to causes like United Cerebral Palsy.

Or Kim McLaughlin, 18 years old, who volunteered for the Tennessee Outreach Program. And she's been working in the hills rebuilding houses, painting, laying down floors. And she says this: ``I like seeing the smiles on people's faces after we're done. When we're finished, they cried.''

I understand that Don Stone, a bank president, decided that the best way to convince students to stay in school was to work with them, to talk with them, one at a time -- one on one. And not long ago, Don saw one of those kids across the street. And he says, ``I just walked over to him, walked over to hug him. He's been drug free for about 2 weeks.'' And he says, ``We do a lot of hugging here.''

Maybe you read about Pauline Hord, 82 years old. I hope she'll forgive me for revealing that. And somebody at the Mississippi Penitentiary at Parchman had been talking about a prisoner there, saying he couldn't read a Bible if he'd had one. And so that's where she stepped forward. She goes about 100 miles each way to the prison, every Wednesday, to teach inmates how to read. She's taught nearly 140 of them, and now she's training them to teach others. And here's what she says, ``I'm a teacher of teachers,'' she says.

Lillie Belle Witcher -- she's only 79 -- and she works hard for nearly half a dozen causes. And she says, ``If a day goes by and I haven't done something for somebody, it just seems like a wasted day.''

Forget fortune, fame, and glory, and glittering prizes. The people I've been describing to you -- they are great American success stories. And they're powerful reminders that everyone can do something for somebody else.

Mary Taylor spent 16 years on welfare. And she said, ``I used it, and it used me.'' Now she's a community activist who helps the poor get back on their feet. And she says, ``We all have a place to be part of the system, no matter what level we are on.''

From disk jockeys to truck drivers to CEO's to children to the retired, service to others should be a central part of American life. And it's never been more needed than it is now. It ought to be talked about in the boardrooms and the bowling alleys and the factories and the rotaries and the fraternities, sororities, farms, families, cities, union halls, suburbs, and shopping malls -- everywhere in America. Everyone has a gift to give. And every one of us has a special talent that can help solve America's problems. And every institution in America can make the kind of commitment that you've made here.

At the White House we know a good idea when we see one, so we're going to announce and honor individuals and groups across the country who are making a difference -- working to improve the lives of others -- giving more Americans reasons to give thanks. These daily Points of Light won't be singled out because they themselves are the best. We honor them because they show what's the best in all of us. And they show that from now on in America any definition of a successful life must include serving others. To honor their spirit and commitment is to honor yours and those like you. We will single out a few, because they represent the many. And we hope that by highlighting their achievements, and the ways they've found to serve, we can inspire others to serve.

So, let me close by announcing the very first White House daily Point of Light. It's an organization that put the spotlight on citizens who have made community service a part of their definition of success and encouraged other people to do the same, proving that the volunteer spirit is alive and well in the Volunteer State. That organization is the reason we're all here today, braving the elements to salute them. They are the leadership and staff of the Commercial Appeal. And I am proud to honor them in this way.

Just imagine an America where service to others is a fact of life, part of everyone's everyday thinking. Imagine the impact if every single newspaper and magazine and television and radio station and cable system found and recognized a Thousand Points of Light. Imagine if every institution, from the airlines to dry cleaners to high schools to neighborhood softball teams, were to join us in regularly honoring as heroes those who are engaged in the war against drug abuse or illiteracy, AIDS, homelessness, hunger, and the other problems. We are nearing the dawn of a new decade. And so, let it be a decade with no dark corners, no forgotten people, no forgotten places.

And so, if you've got a hammer, find a nail. If you can read, find someone who can't. If you're well, do it like the volunteers I just saw at St. Jude's. Help someone who isn't well. If you're not in trouble, seek out someone who is. Because everywhere there is a need in America, there is a way to fill it. And everywhere there is a dream in America, there's a way to make it come true.

Isn't it fitting that on this chilly and wet eve before Thanksgiving, we pay tribute to those Americans who help their fellow Americans. God bless you all. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I hope you haven't gotten pneumonia, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much. Thank you all.

Note: The President spoke at 12:14 p.m. on the front lawn of the Commercial Appeal. In his remarks, he referred to Lionel Linder and Joseph Williams, editor and general manager of the Commercial Appeal, respectively; Loren Ghiglione, editor of the News in Southbridge, MA; and Rev. Donald Mowery, director of Youth Service U.S.A.