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At his 1961 inauguration to the presidency, John F. Kennedy issued a challenge to the American people that, fifty years later, leaders are trying to revive. "My fellow Americans," Kennedy proclaimed into the frozen January air, "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." The speech was in part an exhortation to the American people to change their attitudes toward government and become active participants in civic life. On the 50th anniversary of his famous inaugural speech, we can't help but wonder: are Americans taking his words to heart?
The "Ask Not" Campaign, created by the JFK Presidential Library and Museum, aims to reinvigorate the meaning behind those oft-quoted words. With audio clips of some of JFK's most memorable speeches as well as three public service announcements starring Jimmy Fallon, the campaign attempts to "celebrate the past to awaken the future."
This May, American Experience is doing just that. Forty students will participate in the 2011 Student Freedom Ride, retracing the route of the 1961 Freedom Rides alongside civil rights leaders and some of the original Riders. If the overwhelming number of applications we have received for this initiative is any indication, the future of civic engagement is alive and well.
Tory Starr is a Production Assistant for American Experience.