No one had a closer seat to former Vice President Joe Biden than National Civil Rights Museum President Terri Lee Freeman during his American Promise Tour stop at the Orpheum Theatre last Friday night.
Biden and Freeman sat across a table from each other under a single spotlight for a discussion that revolved around his new book, “Promise Me Dad: A Year of Hope and Purpose. With Freeman serving as the prompt person, Biden talked about his commitment to civil rights, making American better and his life in and out of pubic office.
Biden’s son, Beau, died of a brain tumor in May 2015. “Maybe the book is about his insistence that I do my job and my desire to be with him,” Biden said reflectively. “He said, ‘Dad, promise me you’ll be OK.’”
In front of a crowd that frequently interrupted Biden’s comments with applause, Biden responded to Freeman’s questions during a conversation that she later summed as about “the need for civic engagement and why his career in public service was so important.”
Speaking to The New Tri-State Defender later, Freeman said civic engagement, ultimately, is “kind of an underlying element of the civil rights movement because had the people not gotten involved and went out there and been persistent and been engaged there would not have been a movement. So it certainly connects.”
At several points, Biden, a self-described member of the 1968-generation, talked of a parallel with today’s millennial
“I think your generation has reached the point our generation did,” he said, putting that assertion in the context of protests against the Vietnam War, for civil rights and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.
“Americans were told there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and there’s a comedian named Lenny Bruce who said, ‘yea, there’s a light alright and it’s a train.”
Today, he said, “Our politics is broken … too crass … mean. … We’ve got to fix the way we talk to each other.”
The millennial generation, Biden said, “is the most progressive, the most open, the most volunteering generation, and best educated, but so many of you are not willing to run for office or get involved in politics.”
Similarly, he said when he was in high school and college the mantra was to drop out, don’t trust anybody over 30. Don’t get involved in politics.”
As a point of reference for the country moving forward, Biden said the U.S. leads the world in ideas and in its devotion to the ideals of freedom and progress.
“Life is about hope,” he said. “I predict to you that in the next 10 years there can be a remarkable transformation if we remember who we are.”
After the event, Freeman said, “This is a time where we’re seeing the pendulum start to swing back. …Where people are going to get engaged as opposed to dropping out as he said about the 60s’. …
“Now what we’re seeing is a desire on the part of young people, especially women, to re-engage in politics. Now is the time. America has everything it really needs. It just needs more people to get engaged in the process.”
The sold-out event drew Kim Wiltz and her husband, Charlie Hampton, who drove from New Orleans.
“I have a deeper appreciation for who he actually is, his compassion and his faith in what this country actually is,” Wiltz said. “He really cares and he wants to make a difference.”
Hampton said, “He really, really touched the core of my soul talking about how he came up, his family, what really matters and how time is changing. …”
His generation, Hampton said, was “raised with certain standards and we’re trying to hold on to that and that’s what this generation needs to do: remember when, look at today and see where we need to be as this world changes.”
Ian Engstrom attended with his wife, Anne.
“I loved the talk about the optimism, what we can be and what we can do,” Engstrom said. “We don’t hear enough about how good we are as a nation; that’s really the part that stood out most to me.”
Anne Engstrom said, “I liked his optimism too, that he has faith that we can be better. He has faith that there are more that love this country and have moral fiber.”