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Teleconference Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Team Harmony Rally VII

December 05, 2000

The President. Thank you very much. Thank you, Josh, for that introduction. Your father would be very proud. I also want to thank Jon Jennings, Donna Harris-Lewis, and Joyce Zakim. To Rick Rendon, thank you for helping to organize Team Harmony VII. I also want to send you Hillary's best wishes. As Josh said, she's a big fan of Team Harmony and the great work you do.

And finally, I'd like to thank all the students from throughout New England for taking part in what I am told is the largest gathering of young people against racism, hatred, and bigotry. And of course, I welcome our friends from Belfast and Johannesburg.

The great thing about this modern world we live in is that we can have a conversation like this across the oceans and continents, and it's just the beginning. When I look ahead to your future, I see a time when we'll have unbelievable scientific discoveries. I believe your children will be born, literally, with a life expectancy of about 100 years. We're unlocking the secrets of the human genes. You will be citizens of the world in ways that no one else has ever been because of the way the Internet is bringing us together.

But even though we live in the most modern of worlds, the biggest problem we face, as all of you have been discussing, is perhaps the oldest problem of human society: People are afraid of those who are different from them because of things like race, religion, or sexual orientation. And they go from fear to distrust; then it's easy to slip from distrust into dehumanization and from dehumanization into violence.

I saw all this when I was a child. I grew up in the southern part of the United States when it was completely segregated and where racial differences meant everything. I went to a segregated school. It was common to sit at segregated lunch counters, to ride even in segregated sections of the bus, to go to movies where the seating sections were divided, black and white.

But lucky for me, when I was a little child, I lived for a while with my grandparents and then spent a lot of time with them afterward, and my grandfather did not believe in this. He was a small grocery store owner. Most of his customers were African-Americans. He taught me, through his example—and my grandmother, as well—that segregation and discrimination were wrong, and it was important that all people be able to live in dignity and respect. There is no greater lesson in life.

I think we can figure out how to solve all our other challenges as people if we can only work this one big challenge out, establishing the right kind of relationships with one another. That's why in the years I've been President, I've worked so very hard to bring us together as one America and to work throughout the world to help ensure that all people have dignity and an equal shot at life, to work against racial and ethnic and religious discrimination, from Northern Ireland to the Balkans to the Middle East. We've come a long way on our journey toward reconciliation and understanding and mutual respect, but we've still got a long way to go. And young people, like you, have a very big role to play.

What is the heart of the challenge? I think it's pretty simple. I think we have to do a better job of teaching young people to value themselves as inherently worthy and good but not to value themselves by comparison to others. Of course, we all belong to groups and cliques and organizations. That's a good thing, not a bad thing. Everybody wants to belong to some group or another. But it is very important that young people be taught, and then that young people teach, that God did not create any of us better than any others.

There are people in life, unfortunately, who just can't feel good about themselves, unless they've got somebody else to look down on. It is our responsibility to confront this and to stand against it. The life we live today is far more interesting, because our societies are more diverse. Differences make life exciting. All our nations are richer, our future will be more exciting because of our differences, as long as we understand clearly that the most important thing we share is our common humanity.

Now, that's what Team Harmony is all about. So I wanted to take a few minutes and speak with you, listen to you, and urge you to keep talking and listening and reaching out to people who are different from you. You may be surprised by what you learn, but you will be confirmed in your instinct that our common humanity is the most important thing.

Not long ago, Hillary sponsored one of our millennial events at the White House, and we invited one of America's top scientists involved in unlocking the mysteries of the human genome. He told us that all humans, genetically, are 99.9 percent the same. Then he said that the genetic differences among people of the same racial groups are greater than the differences between different racial groups. So, we're getting a message here. Science is reaffirming what our faith and our values tell us: We do have more in common than that which divides us.

So if you can do something about violence and fear among young people, if you can deal with this oldest problem of human society, if you can make sure diversity is our greatest strength, then your generation will have the brightest future in all human history. You'll have the chance to solve age-old problems, to cure diseases, to give people opportunities they never could have had before. And we must do our part. We're very proud of your leadership in doing yours.

Again, I thank you for Team Harmony. I thank you for your care and concern. I thank you for giving me a chance to come by and visit for a few minutes. And now I'll be glad to take your questions. Thank you very much.

Jose Masso. Mr. President, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon with Team Harmony. My name is Jose Masso. We have a young woman here who would like to ask a question of you, Mr. President.

One America

Q. Hello, Mr. President. My name is Rachel—[inaudible]—and my question is, what advice can you give to the youth of Team Harmony on continuing all the work you have done towards creating one America?

The President. I'm sorry, but I couldn't hear the question.

Q. What advice can you give to the youth of Team Harmony on continuing all the work you have done towards creating one America?

The President. Thank you very much. Well, first let me say that I think that the middle school and high school years, in some ways, are the most important time to do the work that Team Harmony advocates and celebrates.

You know, even though I'm not young anymore, I can still remember when I was your age. I can remember the kinds of things young people worry about. But I'm very grateful that, because of my parents and grandparents, I never felt that for me to be okay, I had to think that someone else wasn't okay; for me to feel important, I had to believe someone else was not important or was insignificant. I'm very grateful to my family for teaching me that, and I think that is the central message that young people have to teach each other. You've got to reinforce the idea that everybody counts, that everybody deserves a chance, and that we all do better when we help each other.

And the other point I want to make about that is that in middle school and high school, peers have such an enormous influence over their fellow students. If you're here at this conference and you believe in what you all are talking about, I hope, when you go back home, you will make sure that in your school there is a systematic effort to share these ideas and values with other young people, because so many of you can have more influence on your friends and classmates than just about anybody, even the President of the United States.

And the most important thing of all is still to get people to be proud of their own racial, ethnic, religious heritage, and at the same time, being absolutely convinced that other people's different heritage is worthy of respect, because the most important thing is our common humanity.

There ought to be a systematic effort to do that in every school in America and in every school in Northern Ireland and in every school in South Africa and wherever else in the world this is an issue.

Northern Ireland Peace Process

Barry Tatelman. Thank you, President Clinton. My name is Barry Tatelman, and I'm a supporter of Team Harmony. We're now going to go to Belfast for a question for President Clinton.

Q. Hello, Mr. President. My name is Gary— [inaudible]. I'm a 17-year-old student at—[inaudible]—College in Belfast. My question for you today is, you're going to be in Northern Ireland next week. What do you hope you will accomplish by a visit?

The President. I think you asked me what I hope will come out of my visit to Northern Ireland. And what I hope will happen is that it will encourage the political leaders and the people of Northern Ireland to continue working to overcome their differences and to keep moving forward on the Good Friday accord.

So much has already been accomplished. A local government is in place that represents all the people; cease-fires are holding; progress is made in putting the paramilitary arms beyond use. Significant work is being done in the vital areas of human rights, police, and judicial reform. We're seeing a lot more investment from America and other countries in helping to create good new jobs.

But if this momentum is not maintained, then the gains would be put at risk. The peace process everywhere is a bit like riding a bicycle: Both legs have to keep pedaling to keep moving forward and straight, and if they don't, then the bicycle could veer off course. And that's not in anyone's interest.

So let me say, we've all got to realize what's at stake here. It's easy to just focus on one part of this process, or one issue, and to complain. The difficult but far more important task is for everyone to keep his or her eyes on the big picture and to work through the issues. The hard way offers the hope of peace and progress for all sides. The easy way could lead to a cycle of recrimination and potentially even to a return of violence and the Troubles.

Now, I hold no illusion that my visit is going to solve all the problems. That is something the parties and the governments have to do. But I have taken a deep and genuine interest in supporting the peace process since before I took office. And when Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Ahern and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister all told me that if I were to visit, it might help, I said, "Sure, I'll do whatever I can." I have worked on this now for 8 years. I care about it deeply.

But I would just say to all of you who are watching, we have come so far. In a troubled world, the progress in Ireland has been a beacon of hope, and we have got to finish the job.

Eliot Tatelman. Thank you very much, Mr. President. My name is Eliot Tatelman, and we're now going to take you to South Africa and ask South Africa what questions they would have for the President.

South Africa

Q. My name is Hloni Mongola. I am 15 years of age. It's an honor to speak to you, Mr. President, and I hope that you answer our question in a positive and a significant way. I'd like to ask you two questions; that's if you don't mind. You know that South African youth struggled against apartheid, and they won, which we are appreciative of that. Now, we suddenly found out that there are no jobs, and AIDS is killing our people. We want to find out how you advise us, the youth of Africa, on solving this problem.

And the second question is this: You realize that most of the youth in Africa admires you. We would like you to give us three of your best—[inaudible].

The President. I can't hear you, but I think you asked me a question about South Africa and the AIDS issue. So I hope you can hear me. Let me talk first about AIDS.

I am very concerned about what it could do to South Africa and, indeed, to many other countries throughout the African continent. We have to work together to fight this epidemic. It threatens all South Africans, Americans, the young, the old, black, and white. We are working hard here to support your efforts in South Africa with a dramatic increase in funding for international AIDS programs.

But frankly, the youth of South Africa have a critical role, as well. First, you have to remember that AIDS is 100 percent preventable. You must educate yourselves and educate others and talk about this disease no matter how hard it is. If you and all your classmates do this, you can protect yourselves and an entire generation. Meanwhile, we have to keep working on care, making the medicine more affordable, on prevention, on a cure. We have to work on all that. But don't forget, before medicine, this is still 100 percent preventable. And that's something that those of you involved in this conference in South Africa could have a big impact on.

South Africa's new political freedom is an inspiration to all of us in America and, indeed, to people throughout the world. And I know that the economic challenges are enormous, especially in terms of unemployment. There are differences between what the Government can do and what you can do.

What I would urge all of you to do is to concentrate on getting a good education and learning skills that can increase your country's productivity. You're the first generation to really understand computers, to have access to learning how to run the small enterprises needed to build South Africa's rural economy, to have access to the language skills needed to help your country trade with the rest of the world. If you take advantage of these opportunities, you will take South Africa a long way toward being a stronger country with a better economy, with more opportunities for young people, and a greater chance to prosper in the global economy. I also think you should do whatever you can to encourage all the other young people you know to stay in school.

And finally, let me just say one thing. The AIDS issue and the economic issue are related. Money the Government has to spend on AIDS is money that can't be spent on education and economic development. And if you lose large numbers of a whole generation, they won't be out there in their working years contributing to the wealth and strength of your country.

So again I implore you—we'll do what we can to help, but you make sure that every young person—every young person—is committed to doing what it takes to avoid HIV and AIDS. You make sure that you stay in school as long as you can and to keep your friends in school. And if you do that, then we'll do what we can to work with your Government to create economic opportunity and to bring whatever miracles modern medicine can produce to deal with the terrible horrors of AIDS. We'll get through this, but you have to do your part, as well.

Thank you very much.

Let me say to all of you, I want to thank you for the honor of addressing you, but I want to thank you even more for the work you're doing and the great spirit with which you're doing it. Nothing is more important to our future. I intend to keep working with you in the years to come. Even though I won't be President, there still may be a thing I can do to help you along the way.

And to all my friends in Belfast, I look forward to visiting you very soon. Keep up the work toward peace. Thank you very much.

Q. Mr. President, before you go, we would like to make a special presentation to you. On behalf of the Team Harmony Foundation, I'd like to thank you for being a part of today and for your lifelong commitment and leadership.

The President. Thank you. Thank you.

Q. Mr. President, for all you have done, to further race relations here in the United States through your initiative, One America, we would like to thank you.

Q. And now we have someone in Belfast, correct?

Q. President Clinton, for all you have done to promote peace amongst the people of Northern Ireland, we thank you.

Q. And now, our friends in South Africa.

Q. President Clinton, for being a friend to South Africa and for your commitment to our freedom and our future, we would like to thank you very much. Thank you.

Q. Mr. President, we proudly present you with the Team Harmony lifetime achievement award.

Q. Here it is. Thank you, Mr. President.

The President. Thank you. Bye, Jon.

NOTE: The President spoke by satellite at 12:14 p.m. from Room 459 in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building to the rally meeting at the Fleet Center in Boston, MA. The President's remarks were also transmitted to participants in Northern Ireland and South Africa. In his remarks, he referred to Josh Zakim, son of the late Team Harmony cofounder Lenny P. Zakim; Donna Harris-Lewis and Joyce Zakim, members, board of advisors, Team Harmony; Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice Jon Jennings and Richard H. (Rick) Rendon, cofounders, Team Harmony; Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom; Prime Minister Bertie Ahern of Ireland; and First Minister David Trimble and Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon of Northern Ireland.

William J. Clinton, Teleconference Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Team Harmony Rally VII Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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