06/06/2014 10:25 am ET Updated Aug 06, 2014

Honoring My Grandfather Robert Kennedy, 48 Years After the Ripple of Hope Speech


On June 6, 1966, my grandfather, Robert F. Kennedy, stood before a crowd of college students in Cape Town, South Africa, at the height of Apartheid, and spoke words that would later echo in my own life:

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

I first heard those words on August 29, 2005, the day Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. That night, sprawled on my living room floor, I watched the horror of Katrina rage across the television screen. My mom walked in and sat me on her lap as I cried. How could anyone, let alone an eight-year-old like me, do anything to help? My mom suggested a school supplies drive, but I protested that it wouldn't do any good. We could never collect enough supplies for all of the kids in need, so what was the point?

That was when my mom quoted the speech that Grandpa had delivered in South Africa almost 40 years earlier. The lesson of his words was clear: I didn't have to provide books and pencils to every child in New Orleans, but my small effort could be part of a global act of giving, and together we might improve the lots of our neighbors along the Gulf Coast. And Grandpa's words applied not only to disasters like Katrina, but also to my everyday life. I realized, for instance, that even if I could only stand up for one classmate being teased, that classmate may feel empowered, and that would send a ripple of hope to other kids, and the person doing the bullying might even change his or her behavior.

Two years ago, Grandpa's words echoed in my mind once again. Over spring break of my freshman year of high school, I visited the indigenous village of Nuevo Zaragoza, Mexico, with the Robert F. Kennedy Center, the organization my family founded to continue my grandfather's unfinished work. There, I was faced with a kind of inequality I had never encountered: the indigenous children are denied access to an equal education. The Mexican government has failed provide them with a village schoolhouse, desks, or even a teacher who speaks their language. I wondered, again, what could I do to help?

The injustice in this region is structural, but while we work to change the law, my Grandpa's words inspired me to take more immediate action. Last spring, we returned to Nuevo Zaragoza and built a school there, and another in Buena Vista, a neighboring village across the mountain. We have a third school nearing completion this summer. But there are 700 villages in the region, and hundreds of students who yearn for a desk, a safe place to learn, and an opportunity to grow.

So I launched a campaign called DISOBEY, where we sell t-shirts to raise money for education access in indigenous Mexico. When the campaign started, I hoped to sell 20 t-shirts to raise $400. However, just as my grandpa predicted, the campaign started a single ripple of hope. Soon, celebrities like Mia Farrow, Alec Baldwin, and Peter Frampton promoted the campaign, creating new ripples. Those ripples have created a current: in just one month, the DISOBEY campaign has raised more than $3,300, which will go toward building more schools and tearing down oppression.

Today, 48 years after my grandpa asked the students of Cape Town to believe that even the smallest action has the power to change the world, I know that the best way to honor him is to stand up for my ideals, work to improve the lives of others, and strike out against injustice, no matter how daunting the obstacles. That's what drives the DISOBEY campaign. Will you send out a ripple of your own? Go to to learn more.