Senator Ted Kennedy Jr. reflects on JFK’s legacy as 100th birthday nears

(WTNH)–The Connecticut Mental Health Center in New Haven is an important place for state Senator Ted Kennedy.

Support facilities like it were the vision of his uncle, John F. Kennedy.

“The community mental health act was the last piece of legislation my uncle signed before he died,” Sen. Kennedy said. “It really revolutionized the way we thought about individuals with mental health conditions and the way we provide services. Before, people with mental health conditions were living in the shadows.”

For President Kennedy, it was an issue that hit home.

“I think that my uncle Jack was influenced significantly my his sister Rosemary. She had an intellectual disability, and he witnessed first hand how much she struggled and how she was often isolated and ignored,” Sen. Kennedy said. He understood this experience with what people with mental disabilities faced and what their families faced.”

May 29th marks JFK’s birthday, and as the world reflects on his legacy, so does the Kennedy family.

“I think for many years those of us in the Kennedy family have wanted the country to focus on his birthday, now his 100th birthday, instead of that day on November 22nd, because we want to celebrate all that he was and things that he believed in,” Kennedy said. “Yes he was an inspiring person, and a great speaker, but he was also was human being who basically cared about other people.”

“My uncle was very clear in the types of things that he stood for. He stood for equal opportunity and social justice. And really believed that all Americans deserved an equal chance at the American dream. Of course the Civil Rights Movement was just in its infancy. At the time he called the civil rights struggle a moral issue, he was the first elected person in the United States to really call it really what it was.”

Kennedy believes that what JFK stood for–political courage–is needed now more than ever.

“We need political courage today. My family recognizes individuals, both Democrat and Republican, who stand up many times buck their party and say what they think. We need people like that in government today.”

Americans know the image, the legend. But lessons from his father have taught Kennedy that JFK was special for the potential he saw in others to be great, not in himself.

“When speaking about my Uncle Jack, my father taught us all, not to idolize this man, like a lot of the historians and the history books do. He was somebody who cared, yes he was a bright man who had high intellect, a great speaker. He was a person who cared. All of us, everyone can make a difference in their community. You don’t need to become President of the United States.”

“Really that’s the lesson of my uncle is not the pursuit of political office but really engaging in our community and not leaving all of our problems for other people to solve.”

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