‘Ripple of Hope’ (Day of Affirmation) Speech: Teacher Resources



Robert Kennedy’s renowned Day of Affirmation (Ripple of Hope) speech offers compelling views on racial injustice, the individual right to freedom and the capacity and responsibility of each one of us – and especially youth – to combat injustice in a quest for equality and peace. Kennedy’s message is as relevant and compelling today as it was almost fifty years ago.

Offered below are a series of Focus Questions to guide students’ discussion of selected excerpts from the speech.  You might want to use the full series of quotes and questions, or just those that particularly match your classroom needs.

(ELA Teachers:  Robert Kennedy was known for his ability to inspire others with his gift for language.  To guide students through a deeper analysis of the overall meaning, structure and impact of Kennedy’s eloquent use of language in the  Ripple of Hope’ or any other of his speeches,  please refer to this analyzing language lesson.)

Essential Questions:

  • What was the main message Robert Kennedy’s ‘Ripple of Hope’ speech?
  • How is Robert Kennedy’s message relevant to me today?
  • What injustices do I see in the world today that might inspire me to action?
  • What possible actions might I take to combat these injustices?


Audio link here to the same speech excerpt to be used with ELA lesson.

Copies of excerpts:  Robert  Kennedy’s Day of Affirmation (Ripple of Hope) speech (need link to pdf of essential questions, full text, speech excerpts and associated focus questions for each.)

RFK’s Words

History of Slavery and Racism

Kennedy began his speech by describing a country wrought with a history of racism and slavery.  As he does so, he seems to be suggesting that he’s describing the unjust conditions in South Africa.   When he concludes his introduction, however, he surprisingly reveals that he’s referring to the United States:

 I came here because of my deep interest and affection for a land settled by the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century, then taken over by the British, and at last independent; a land in which the native inhabitants were at first subdued, but relations with whom remain a problem to this day; a land which defined itself on a hostile frontier; a land which has tamed rich natural resources through the energetic application of modern technology; a land which once imported slaves, and now must struggle to wipe out the last traces of that former bondage. I refer, of course, to the United States of America.

This excerpt  of the speech offers a compelling entry point into a lesson about the history and current status of racial struggles in the United States.


–Kennedy remarked that in 1966, his country was still struggling to ‘wipe out the last traces’ of the former bondages of slavery in the United States.   As of today, have those traces yet been fully wiped out?  Explain and discuss.

(Related teaching resources can be found here:  (Link here to lessons/resources on racial equality)

Universal Declaration of Human Rights 

Robert Kennedy devoted his life’s work to fighting for human rights. He said:

Today I am glad to meet with the National Union of South African Students. For a decade, NUSAS has stood and worked for the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — principles which embody the collective hopes of men of good will all around the globe.


What is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) to which he referred?  To learn more about the UDHR, click here.

Liberty for all human beings

RFK says that the ‘supreme goal and abiding practice of any Western society’ must be the ‘enlargement of liberty for individual human beings’.


–What is liberty?  What are liberties you enjoy in your school, daily life, or community?

–What did he mean by this statement?  Do you agree?   Explain.  If you disagree, is  there  another ‘supreme goal’ might you suggest as being more worthy?  Discuss and debate.

–What are examples of liberties for individual human beings that are in need of protection in your school, daily life or community?   What about in your country or elsewhere in the world?

When referring to young people around the world, RFK stated that he was impressed not by their diversity but by ‘the closeness of the goals, their desires and their concerns and their hope for the future’.


What did Robert Kennedy mean by this?

Do you agree with this statement? Do you feel a ‘closeness of goals, desires, concerns and hope for the future with other young people around the world?  Give examples from your own point of view and experience.

What did Robert Kennedy mean when he said that the  ‘youth of today are the only true international community’?   Do you agree with this statement? Explain and give examples of your point of view.

The challenge of creating change

Robert Kennedy quoted the Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli who said:   “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”


What did Robert Kennedy mean by this?

What are some current issues that political leaders are attempting to change your community or country?  Is progress being made? Does Kennedy’s statement seem to relate?

The power of individuals to make a difference

Robert Kennedy believed in the power of individuals to make a difference.  He believed that small acts can add up and have a larger impact. He famously said:

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.


Do you agree with this statement?   Explain and discuss.

What are examples of  ‘tiny ripples of hope’ that eventually swept down the ‘mightiest walls of oppression and resistance’?  These might either be from your own experience, from things that have happened in your school or community or from events that you’ve learned about from the news or throughout your studies.

Note:  For additional opportunities for students to learn about Robert Kennedy’s work on civil rights and poverty – and how these issues relate to today’s times, click here.  (link to each of the sections within the resource.)

Learn More

Learn More about Apartheid

Those interested in learning more about specific issues referenced in Robert Kennedy’s Day of Affirmation (Ripple of Hope) speech can find more information and video and classroom resources  here:



Learn More about Robert Kennedy’s fight against injustice:

Those interested in learning more about specific issues referenced in Robert Kennedy’s Day of Affirmation (Ripple of Hope) speech can find more information and video and classroom resources  here:


Speak Truth to Power: Become inspired by defenders taking action today

Speak Truth To Power, a project of Robert Kennedy Human Rights, is a multi-faceted global initiative that uses the experiences of courageous defenders from around the world to educate students and others about human rights, and urges them to take action. Issues range from slavery and environmental activism to religious self-determination and political participation.

Explore the story of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s work (include link here) to confront the bigotry and violence of South Africa’s apartheid system.

Take Action!

Robert Kennedy deeply believed that each individual has the responsibility and capacity to make a positive difference.  He said:

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”

At this point, you might want to invite students to read the following post by Robert Kennedy’s granddaughter, Michaela Kennedy Cuomo, as an example of how one youth found inspiration in his words:


Become A Defender

Ask students to share examples of what they might already have done – or noticed others doing  – to make a difference, even if in small ways.  Student can refer to the Become A Defender (link) unit of Speak Truth to Power  for inspiration and guidance on how they can take positive action toward fighting injustice.

RFK’s Work Lives On

Robert Kennedy’s unwavering commitment to protecting human rights and opposing attacks on civil liberties is central to his ongoing legacy.

Watch the following clip and Robert Kennedy’s daughters describe how their mother and Robert Kennedy’s wife, Ethel has carried on his work:

To further realize Robert Kennedy’s dream for a more just and peaceful world, in 1968, Ethel Kennedy, along with Robert Kennedy’s family and friends founded Robert Kennedy Human Rights, one of the foremost human rights’ organizations.

Click here to learn more about the work of Robert Kennedy Human Rights.

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