The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
September 13, 2005

Mrs. Bush's Remarks to the Heritage Foundation
The Heritage Foundation
Washington, D.C.

9:13 A.M. EDT

MRS. BUSH: Thank you, Ed, for your kind introduction, and thank you very much for inviting me here to the Heritage Foundation.

I want to thank all the founders and the trustees of the Heritage Foundation who are here today, and the others before you who built this great think tank.

I'm struck, just like Ed said, that this is a time, really, to talk about values, to talk about as we see what we've seen on television. We've seen terrible, terrible things and we've seen unbelievably unselfish acts of giving, as well, by communities all across the United States -- and, of course, many more unselfish acts of giving than bad things. Maybe the media hasn't shown us that much, but we've read about it and we do know about it.

Laura Bush delivers remarks at the Heritage Foundation in New York Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2005. White House photo by Krisanne Johnson Heritage is at the leading edge of the policy debates that affect our country and the world. And you contribute fresh ideas from a conservative perspective, encouraging policy makers to continue government reform and to stay true to our timeless values. And compassion is certainly one of those timeless values.

We've seen the compassion of the American people in the aftermath of the hurricane. I've made three trips to the Gulf Coast in the last two weeks, and each time, invariably, people have told me how much they appreciate the volunteer workers and the ordinary citizens who are helping them with love and respect and treating them with dignity. One woman who fled with her family to Louisiana wanted Americans to know -- and she said she really wished the press would show this on television -- and that is how evacuees have hope. And in talking about recovering, she said that because of the compassion of strangers, and I quote, "Where you start isn't from rock bottom like you thought it would be." And that's what I've seen at each of the shelters I've visited. I've never heard a single word of complaint. I've heard people say, I'm ready to get back to work, or to thank the people that are there helping them in every way. And as in every tragedy, we've seen a huge wellspring of compassion as neighbors help neighbors pick up their pieces and move forward.

My husband believes deeply in American compassion, and that value directs many of his policies. The President recognizes that it's both compassionate and conservative to make sure children are educated so they can take advantage of the opportunities that come with freedom. Every child must learn to read and write and solve problems in this increasingly complex world. And that means every child, from every background, in every neighborhood -- and in countries around the world.

Here at home, the No Child Left Behind Act has put a new emphasis on high standards and on eliminating the achievement gap between white students and minority students. We also want to make sure that children develop a strong character and learn important life lessons. To do that, children need caring adults in their lives. The comedian Eddie Cantor used to say in all seriousness that every time he saw the 10 Most Wanted list, he thought, maybe if we'd made them feel more wanted earlier, they wouldn't be wanted now. (Laughter.)

Young people have many challenges and they face increasingly more challenges, many more challenges than even I faced in my generation. Risky behaviors, including drug, alcohol, and tobacco use, violence, early sexual activity, are still among the top causes of disease and early death among youth. In addition, more children are growing up without an involved, committed, and responsible father in their lives, and studies show that an overwhelming number of violent criminals in the United States are males who grew up without their dads.

Parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, pastors, and mentors can help children develop the strong character to make wise and healthy decisions. And they can shape a world in which good values are encouraged and dangerous behavior is unacceptable.

I've visited a number of programs across the United States that are demonstrating how adult guidance and support can dramatically improve children's lives. And just in case you don't know it, I don't visit and spotlight a program unless they actually have substantial results that show that program is effective.

In Los Angeles, Father Gregory Boyle runs a program called Homeboy Industries. When I visited Homeboys, I was greeted -- one of my greeters at the door, just like Ed greeted me today at the Heritage, was a young man with a word tattooed across his forehead and scratches tattooed down his neck. Needless to say, there are not a lot of employers who would employ him if they met him. Father Boyle knows that most of the young men and women who he hires at Homeboy Industries are unemployable -- first because they're not educated, they don't have any skills, they've been in jail or gangs and they have the tattoos, the gang tattoos to prove it. But Father Boyle knows that having a job can make a tremendous difference in a person's life. So he employs these young people. Homeboys includes a silk-screening business and a caf and a bakery -- self-sustaining enterprises that are run by these former gang members.

Homeboys also has a tattoo-removal program. They own two laser machines and L.A. doctors give their time pro bono to help these gang members remove these tattoos. And he told me -- Father Boyle told me a great story about a man who came in and said, I've got this big tattoo on my chest and I want to remove it. And Father Boyle said, well, it's very painful, it's really expensive. Just wear a shirt, no one will see it. And the man said, "But my son will." So Father Boyle has made a huge difference in the lives of these young people.

The ones that I spoke to at a roundtable told me that they had dealt drugs, they'd been in prison, they'd used drugs. And they said of course they could make a lot more money dealing drugs than they can working there in the bakery or in the silk-screen business. But they said that the life of a dealer is so difficult, so filled with constant anxiety and fear and the idea that you'll be shot the next day, which is what actually happens, that they'd rather take a lower-paying job, a real job, a substantial job that offers them stability and security.

So these skills are learned at Homeboy Industries. People have their tattoos removed, and then they go on to other jobs using the skills that they've learned there.

Ceasefire Chicago was another terrific program I visited. It brings together clergy, the law enforcement, the school community, and the medical community with the goal of stopping gang-related violence. Dr. Gary Slutkin, who helped found CeaseFire, began with a simple premise, and that is, violent behavior is learned. When people grow up in an environment where violence is considered normal, they're more likely to fall into that behavior themselves. And since it's learned, he believes, people can also be taught that it's unacceptable.

Dr. Slutkin and his colleagues wage an intensive campaign to teach young people just that. Partnerships are built around communication so that, for instance, when a child doesn't show up for school, a member of the clergy makes a visit to the child's home. Billboards throughout the neighborhood feature emotional messages about the toll violence takes in people's lives. Volunteers reach out to young people on the street and become mentors, checking in and following up to make sure this young person is staying in school.

Ceasefire is working. In the neighborhood I visited, there were 10 gang-related murders in 2003. Last year there were none.

And just as an interesting side note, Dr. Slutkin, who founded this program, told me that as he worked with these kids in Chicago, he couldn't stop thinking about kids in the Middle East, and that he really thought there are some things they've learned in Ceasefire Chicago that could be used to stop the violence that's across the Middle East.

In all of the programs I've visited, adults teach children by word and example how to achieve their goals and how to grow up to be healthy and successful adults. Some of these programs receive money from the federal government, but many operate on slim budgets and they rely on private donations. Success is based on partnerships within communities and the research-based results that shows these programs are actually working.

Next month, I'll host a White House Conference on Helping America's Youth. The conference, which will be held at Howard University, brings together policy makers, community and faith-based leaders, educators, law enforcement representatives, foundations, and others. Researchers will present their findings about what leads children toward risky behavior, and how we can help them avoid it. And the participants will share their experiences about what methods are working in communities.

At the conference, we'll introduce the Helping America's Youth Community Assessment Tool so that communities and individuals can assess the greatest needs of their own youth and implement strategies proven to help young people.

Gathering more data on programs will be a key to making this effort work. And I'm making an appeal to organizations like Heritage that study social trends and seek solutions to problems. You can have a lasting impact on children's success by studying youth programs around the country and making your findings public. Your assessments can be a valuable tool to individuals, to private organizations, and for governments that want to improve life for children in their communities while using limited resources most effectively.

One lesson I've learned during my travels here and around the world is how similar children are across borders. All children want an adult in their lives. And children want to learn. Yet opportunities for school are scarce in many places around the globe. UNESCO reports that more than 100 million school-age children worldwide do not attend school. In some developing nations, schools have been devastated by war or ethnic violence. In many countries, particularly in Africa, the HIV/AIDS crisis has decimated the teaching profession.

President Bush's African Education Initiative provides students with school supplies, scholarships, and books. The President has proposed new funding that over the next four years will train 500,000 school teachers and administrators in Africa. And it will make available 300,000 scholarships for African girls to attend school through the Ambassador's Girls Scholarship Program.

In Rwanda, 29 girls at the FAWE school receive scholarships from the United States. These girls can concentrate on their studies in a safe and supportive boarding school environment. They have dreams of becoming doctors and lawyers and scientists. One girl told me she wanted to be pilot because she said she's never seen a female pilot in Rwanda.

The girls who attend FAWE were small children when the Rwandan genocide devastated their country. Many lost one or both parents. Some girls have lost one parent to war and another to AIDS. These horrific events have left deep impressions. I met with the senior class where each of the girls told me a little bit about herself. At the end, the principal asked them if there was any -- if they had any questions for me, and the very first question that a girl asked was, how did the United States heal after the Civil War? Just ten years removed from the genocide, Rwanda's children are trying to heal. And they're beginning to think about their own nation's future. And they're looking to the United States for guidance.

Educated girls are better able to handle any challenges in their lives, including violence and disease. In societies where girls aren't educated, men hold most of the power. Economic power can equate with sexual power, with devastating circumstances. Violence against women and the spread of HIV/AIDS are linked. When girls are educated, they're better able to negotiate their own sexual lives. They have more of a chance to abstain from sex or to make their partner use a condom.

The United States is helping the people of Africa combat AIDS. In 2003, President Bush announced a five-year, $15 billion plan to fight AIDS in the most afflicted nations. The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief -- or PEPFAR -- supports care and treatment for people affected by HIV, and funds efforts to prevent further transmission of the disease.

The people of Africa actually know what PEPFAR is. In more than one case, I was told by the Rwandan Minister of AIDS that people out in the bush say, thank President Bush. Now I'm well, I feel good now because of the anti-retrovirals they're on.

But I visited a great program in Capetown, South Africa called Mothers to Mothers-to-be. Women who are pregnant and HIV-positive get drug therapies to prevent transmission of the disease to their children. And as they graduate from the program, many are hired to be trainers themselves and to mentor the next group of mothers. Micro-enterprises are funded so that women can earn some money making small items like belts and lanyards so that they can become self-sustaining and less reliant on their partners.

PEPFAR is supporting the expansion of the Mothers to Mothers-to-be model into other parts of South Africa. And each mother who celebrates the news that her baby is HIV-free knows that PEPFAR and the American people have made that possible.

This week in New York, at the United Nations General Assembly, I'll speak to the Organization of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS, and also to a group of public and private sector leaders involved in the fight against malaria. I'll discuss America's efforts to expand access to education, and to fight AIDS and malaria. And I'll assure people that the United States is committed to working in partnership with African nations.

America's commitment to education and to combating disease will improve the future for millions of children in Africa. And by helping young people in America form relationships with caring adults, we can help them find a source of support and guidance that can stay with them throughout their lives.

Your contributions, through research, policy studies, community involvement, and conversations like the ones that you'll be having today are vital to our efforts.

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you this morning. And best wishes for a very productive and enjoyable Founder's Meeting. Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)

END 9:30 A.M. EDT

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