Published Online: August 16, 2000

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Speakers Call for First-Class Education And End to Child Poverty

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Democrats conveyed a message of optimism and hope in a series of speeches Tuesday night on social issues including education, but they conceded that there are still many challenges ahead when it comes to providing access to high-quality schools and health care and ending child poverty.

“Surely we can find the will and resources to build new schools, hire new teachers, and connect classes to the Internet,” said U.S. Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., D-Tenn., the keynote speaker on the second night of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. “Imagine a world where we could give every child a first-class education.”

Mr. Ford, a 30-year-old two-term member of Congress, serves on the Education and the Workforce Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. Vice President Al Gore, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has called him a “rising star” in the party.

Mr. Ford was preceded on the campaign podium by a long list of speakers, including two liberal pillars of the Democratic party, U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Bill Bradley, who challenged Mr. Gore for the presidential nomination this year and served previously as a U.S. senator from New Jersey.

Mr. Kennedy, who has served in the Senate for nearly 40 years and is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, focused on health care and the need to make sure that every child has access to such services. “If you believe prosperity is a challenge to do better, we must provide access to health care for all children,” he said.

Mr. Bradley, meanwhile, turned his attention to families and poverty and dubbed child poverty “a slow-motion disaster.”

“If we don’t end child poverty in my lifetime, shame on me, shame on you, shame on all of us,” he told the convention crowd.

When Mr. Ford was selected as a keynote speaker, pundits and the media took note of his youth. In his remarks, Mr. Ford spoke of his even younger constituents.

During his first run for Congress in 1996, Mr. Ford said he did not get as many invitations to speak as he would have liked. But, he added, his presence was frequently requested at kindergarten graduations.

“I spoke at more kindergarten graduations than anyone in my district ever knew existed. Thirty, to be exact,” he recalled.

Mr. Ford said he continues to attend kindergarten graduations to this day.

“For those children and their families, we must continue working for a better life and a better world,” the congressman told the crowd.

“Now,” he continued, “as we turn our attention to the choice at hand, let us remember those children, in kindergartens in Memphis and across our nation and remember what this election is really all about: Them.”

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