Kerry Kennedy (00:00):
I think people’s instinct is to say, “There’s nothing I can do. What can I do? I don’t have the power. I’m not a president. I’m not a senator. I’m not [crosstalk 00:00:09].” There’s stuff we can do.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:16):
Welcome to the Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. It’s Farmacy with an F, F-A-R-M-A-C-Y, a place for conversations that matter. If you care about human rights and justice and what can be done to fix some of the big injustices and disparities in our society, this conversation is going to matter to you, because this was none other than Kerry Kennedy, who’s the president of the RFK Human Rights program, which is an incredible organization that I’ve been involved with over the years. She comes by this.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:43):
Honestly, she’s, since 1981, worked on many human rights issues, including child labor, disappearing people, farm workers’ rights, indigenous land rights, judicial independence, freedom of expression, ethnic violence, women’s rights, and the environment, and lots more. She’s written a number of best-selling books including Being Catholic Now, and Robert F. Kennedy, Ripples of Hope, and Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who are Changing our World.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:08):
She’s a good friend. I’ve known her for a long time. We’ve had many conversations about all these issues. She’s just doing such good in the world. She’s also done something really remarkable, which is use the power of money for social good through putting pressure, basically, on fund managers of large asset pools of about 5 to $7 trillion to influence them to make financial investment decisions based on human rights concerns and social justice issues, which I think is remarkable and effective and brilliant. Thank you for that, Kerry.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:42):
She’s a graduate of Brown University, Boston College of Law. She’s received the Medal for Social Activism from the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. Has many, many other honorary degrees. She’s the mother of three beautiful daughters, all from my know, Cara, Mariah, and Michaela. Welcome, Kerry.
Kerry Kennedy (01:58):
It’s so great to be with you, Mark.
Dr. Mark Hyman (02:01):
It’s so good to be with you. I’ve spent a lot of time with your family. What’s really remarkable about the whole crew from the kids through the parents, through their grandparents, is just the level of deep love and care for other people, not just in an abstract way, but through deep activism and social justice efforts across the whole family. It’s just striking how your family has created that culture.
Dr. Mark Hyman (02:27):
I observed in reading about your dad, Robert F. Kennedy, and the story of how he decided to go to Mississippi in the Mississippi Delta in 1967 and ’68. What he saw was so striking to him than in America. He said he’d been to third world countries and never seen anything like this. He saw things in America that he imagined never could exist here. He went to one home, which there was a mother with seven kids. There were no tables. There was no cutlery. The toilet, there was no plumbing. There were roaches and rats running all over the floor.
Dr. Mark Hyman (03:02):
It was a 20-month-old baby boy laying on the floor with rice grains. It was covered in sores and had stomach bloated and hunger like a kid from some developing country. He came back pretty shaken up from that experience. I sort of remember hearing the story of how he came home and he was just really agitated. Do you remember what happened when he came home?
Kerry Kennedy (03:25):
Yeah, [crosstalk 00:03:25].
Dr. Mark Hyman (03:25):
How did it impact you and all of your brothers and sisters who have all sort of followed in the footsteps of his work?
Kerry Kennedy (03:32):
Well, I have 10 brothers and sisters. He came home from that trip. Ours was a very loud household. We were all eating dinner, which was a particularly loud thing, because there were all these kids at the dinner table and clinking spoons and arguing over who got the butter, and whatever. He walked in the door. Then, for the first time, and I think, the only time in my childhood when there was dead silence in the room. We all looked up at him. He said, “I’ve just been through a part of our country where three families live in a room the size of this dining room. I want you to do something to help those children. We’ve got to help those children.”
Kerry Kennedy (04:28):
It was striking because my parents worked on social justice. They lived it. It was part of their faith life. It’s what they did. It was part and parcel of who they were in every imaginable way. They never said, “You have to do this to us.” It was never a directive. Now, it’s the only time that was a directive. Then, it really wasn’t sort of instructing us. It was more of an expression of his kind of feeling of the urgency of now to address poverty in America. As a matter of fact, because he was on the Hunger Commission for the United States Senate, that led to an extraordinary expansion of food stamps.
Kerry Kennedy (05:37):
The woman who took him around on that trip was called Marian Wright. She was a local civil rights activists. His staff member who was working on it for him was a guy called Peter Edelman. Marian and Peter met on that trip and they eventually got married the following year in the summer of 1968. That’s Marian Wright Edelman who took my daddy on that trip.
Dr. Mark Hyman (06:07):
At that time, there’s still many states where it’s illegal for African-Americans and whites to marry, right?
Kerry Kennedy (06:13):
Exactly. It was, and it had just become legal in Washington, DC when they got [inaudible 00:06:21]. After that trip, my father said to her, “You should get a group of poor people and bring them to the Senate and get them to come and talk.” She did that. He kept checking in with her and saying, “What’s happening? How’s it going?” She was saying, “Well, we’re really not getting the type of movement on this that we need to address the extent of the issue in America.”
Kerry Kennedy (06:55):
He finally said, “Listen, this is what you should do. Don’t get two or three people. Get thousands and thousands of poor people across the country. They need to be African-American, but they should be white, Latino. They should be from all parts of the country. They should be all colors of the rainbow. You should do a march on Washington, poor people.” She said, “That is a really interesting idea.” She went immediately very excited about it and saw Martin Luther King. He said, “Yeah, that’s what we ought to be doing.” The last three months of his life or four months of his life, he was organizing the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington DC.
Kerry Kennedy (07:46):
Then, they brought that campaign to Washington in June 1968, which was just when my father was killed. I remember when the funeral, I was only eight years old. When the funeral train came down from St. Patrick’s in New York, then, we got to the train station in Washington DC, they took the casket down. Then, there was a funeral train through the city. We passed by the area where all the poor people were camped out for the Poor People’s March. They all flooded up to the side of the road, [crosstalk 00:08:30] bring tears to my eyes, and started singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Dr. Mark Hyman (08:36):
Kerry Kennedy (08:36):
Which was another song that was so closely associated with my dad. Now, Peter Edelman, 52 years later continues to be on the Board of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. Marian is, of course, a great friend and inspiration.
Dr. Mark Hyman (08:56):
That’s incredible stories. Is that what sort of you think inspired you to dedicate your life to the work you’re doing?
Kerry Kennedy (09:02):
Well, when people ask me that, I always think I’m the seventh child of 11 [crosstalk 00:09:09]. When you come that far down, you’ll appreciate human rights at a very young age.
Dr. Mark Hyman (09:16):
You mean your rights were violated by your brothers and sisters, you mean?
Kerry Kennedy (09:20):
[crosstalk 00:09:20] or rights, especially [crosstalk 00:09:25].
Dr. Mark Hyman (09:31):
It was survival of the fittest, clearly, in that family.
Kerry Kennedy (09:41):
My earliest memories of my dad was in the Justice Department. He was the Attorney General at the height of the civil rights movement. My parents didn’t separate their home life from their work life. We always had a civil rights leaders, Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King. Then, civil rights leaders like Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, and indigenous leaders who were always at our house, talking to my dad, but also, playing football with us and swimming, and all that kind of stuff.
Kerry Kennedy (10:16):
Then, my mother used to, we had a huge convertible when we were kids, and she would take six or seven kids and throw us into the back of the convertible, and two or three dogs and a football, and bring us down to the Justice Department. My father didn’t use an office. He used a hallway. He wanted to have a hallway so he could throw a football across the hall in his office. We would run around his office.
Kerry Kennedy (10:47):
Then, we always like to go to, there was a tunnel underneath the Justice Department brought you into the FBI building. You could watch the sharpshooters have practice. We’d love to do that. One day, we were down there watching the sharpshooters. At that time, the head of the FBI was J. Edgar Hoover, a man not known for his love of children or his sense of humor. He said at that time that the two biggest threats to American democracy are Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy.
Dr. Mark Hyman (11:25):
Kerry Kennedy (11:28):
My mother liked to tease him. There was a suggestion box in the FBI building, which is already pretty funny. There used to be suggestion boxes everywhere. You never see that anymore. Anyway, there used to be. She put in a suggestion. By the time she got all the kids and the football and the dogs and got us back up to my dad’s office, an astute FBI agent had gone and picked out her suggestion, brought it up to J. Edgar Hoover, who had it immediately sent to my dad’s office. When we were walking back in, he was reading it and said, “Get a new director.”
Dr. Mark Hyman (12:11):
Oh, boy. That sounds like your mom.
Kerry Kennedy (12:13):
It was funny because you knew the power of J. Edgar Hoover at that time and his presence in our country. It was a brave thing to do.
Dr. Mark Hyman (12:20):
He was the law.
Kerry Kennedy (12:23):
Yeah, for the lack of [inaudible 00:12:24] anybody. It’s an early lesson in the importance of speaking truth to power.
Dr. Mark Hyman (12:31):
It’s so true.
Kerry Kennedy (12:32):
Another time I went to see my dad, he wrote me this letter, which I still have on my wall. It says, “Dear Kerry, today was a historic day, not just because of your visit, but because two African-Americans, over the objections of Governor Wallace, were able to register at the University of Alabama. I hope these events are long passed by the time you get your pretty little head to college. Love and kisses, Daddy.”
Kerry Kennedy (13:04):
I think my parents, my dad, really tried to integrate, as I say, their work, their belief in social justice and everything they did as human beings and as parents. Good to just tell this story. When I learned to tie my shoe, I made sure that, if I put the right one on first, I’d tied the left one first because I want there to be equality. I didn’t want [crosstalk 00:13:44].
Dr. Mark Hyman (13:43):
That’s so good.
Kerry Kennedy (13:48):
I think it was in my blood [inaudible 00:13:48].
Dr. Mark Hyman (13:48):
Yeah. Well, it’s clearly been on your blood all the way through, because your work has been just so dedicated to social justice and human rights across the world. It is sort of striking, every time I check out what you’re doing and some other thing you’re doing across the world is calling out injustice. It’s helping people claim their rights, that’s exposing things that need to get exposed. I think you’ve done that throughout your life.
Dr. Mark Hyman (14:13):
One of the things that I’ll pay attention a little bit is the work you’ve done around food and farm workers’ rights. I think people don’t understand in this country the level of injustice that exists around our farm workers, and food workers also. There was an act that was in the 1930s, a couple of acts, the Fair Labor Standards Act and the National Labor Relations Act, which set the protections for workers in our workforce. It excluded food and farm workers, mostly because they were black or brown. That is something that persists to today in most states, even though people aren’t aware of this. They’re incredibly under-protected.
Dr. Mark Hyman (15:01):
You worked with your state to introduce something that I think was one of the most compelling piece of legislation anywhere to expose these things and to address it. You were part of a movie called Food Chains, which talked about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Let me just sort of break down, what is the state of farmworkers in America today? We all depend on them for our food. What are the injustices they’re suffering from? What do we need to know? It seems to be one of the most dangerous jobs in America. They seem to be neglected victims of our food system.
Kerry Kennedy (15:36):
Thank you. Thanks, Mark, for talking about that. Indeed, farmworkers are among the most exploited workers in America. About somewhere between 75 and 86% don’t have permanent working papers. A lot of them have papers that allow them to work for a certain number of months, but then, not afterwards. That’s at the pleasure of their employer. Their employer, they often have their wages stolen from them. They often are threatened with deportation if they file complaints. Sexual exploitation of women is endemic in the farmer community.
Kerry Kennedy (16:35):
I interviewed women in almost every county of New York State. All but three of the women told me they had been sexually assaulted on the job. Often, if you want the pleasure of having a job, you have to perform sexual favors. That’s one of the big issues. In New York State, up until we pass out legislation last summer, farm workers had no right to a day off per week, had no right to overtime pay, had no right to workers comp. It was illegal to do any kind of collective bargaining. What does that mean? One of the farm workers who I talked to, I said, “What are your working hours?” He said, “I work three four-hour shifts. I go from midnight.” He was on a duck farm.
Dr. Mark Hyman (17:37):
Making foie gras, right?
Kerry Kennedy (17:39):
It’s a factory farm. Yeah, he was making foie gras. If you go into any fancy restaurant and see foie gras on the menu, if you’re used to the Mississippi and you say, “Where does that come from?” Now, almost all say, “It comes from Hudson Valley Foie Gras.” That’s all from this one farm, Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Anyway, he said he works three four-hour shifts, midnight until 4:00 a.m., goes to sleep. Then, 8:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon, sleeps for four hours, and starts again at 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and starts again at midnight.
Dr. Mark Hyman (18:26):
That’s a recipe for getting very sick very fast.
Dr. Mark Hyman (18:30):
I said, “When do you get a day off?” He goes, “No, we don’t get a day off.” “Do you get a day off on Sunday? You’re Catholic?” He goes, “No, no Sunday.” “How about after the ducks get too fat and they’re ready for slaughter. Do you get a day off, then?” “No, no day off. How about Christmas or Easter? Do you get those days off?” “No, because the ducks got to eat on Christmas.” “When do you get a day off?” He said, “I’ve worked here for 10 years without a single day off.”
Kerry Kennedy (19:00):
Dr. Mark Hyman (19:00):
10 years. What is your housing like? 10 by 16 foot room, two king size mattresses, two couples for a single matt sleeping in shifts. One group goes on, one group goes off. How about that?
Kerry Kennedy (19:18):
Sounds like slavery?
Dr. Mark Hyman (19:20):
Yeah. Minimum wage, no overtime, no workman’s comp. His wife was also working on that farm, permanently injured on the job, fired on her way to the hospital. No compensation, no nothing. That’s just the end of it. Then, he worked there for over 20 years, fired from one day to the next in 2008. This is all legal in the state of New York.
Kerry Kennedy (19:52):
The rest of the country, too, right?
Dr. Mark Hyman (19:54):
Well, it just depends. As you pointed out, when President Roosevelt was passing the Fair Labor Legislation under a Jew, and me, and every taxi driver and restaurant worker in New York or around the country works, the white supremacists, Dixiecrat senators didn’t want blacks to have the same rights as whites. They said to Roosevelt, “We’ll only pass this legislation if there’s a carved out for the two places where blacks can get a job. Those are farm workers and domestic help.”
Dr. Mark Hyman (20:37):
To this day, farm workers and domestic help do not have those federal protections. You ask, “Well, is it in every state?” No, every state has a different set of rules. When we talk to farm workers about exploitation who were coming up the path from Florida up to Maine, some of them said that, actually, you would think that exploitation would be worse in Georgia or in South Carolina, when in fact, it’s worse in New York.
Kerry Kennedy (21:18):
Dr. Mark Hyman (21:18):
That’s the first state they got to that has a boundary with a foreign country, Canada. Anytime they did complaints in New York, the farmers would just say, “We’re going to report you to eyes and you’ll be sent back to Mexico or Haiti, or wherever you came from.” They felt like they had absolutely no capacity to report injustice.
Dr. Mark Hyman (21:47):
Anyway, after a very long, hard struggle, we did get that legislation passed in New York State last year. Thanks to the leadership of Governor Cuomo and of great people in the New York State Senate and people like Tom DiNapoli, who is our state comptroller who championed this for his entire career, we were able to get that legislation passed.
Kerry Kennedy (22:13):
What do the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act in New York provide for farmers?
Dr. Mark Hyman (22:17):
Exactly. They have minimum wage protections. They have overtime protections. It’s no longer illegal for collective bargaining. They get workers comp. On a collective bargaining prime, why is that important? It’s not just the ability to form a union. We talked to a group of farmers upstate New York. They were living in a communal sort of like a shed with a series of cuts in it, 24 of them. They had one john, and the john was broken. They went to the farmer and they said, “The john is broken. Can we fix it?” It didn’t get fixed.
Dr. Mark Hyman (23:07):
They said, “Well, can you do something?” The farmer said, “You know what? I don’t like you guys complaining about this. I don’t need to give you housing. You have no housing as of tonight.” In the middle of nowhere in upstate New York, miraculously, they found another farm five miles down the road that would give them a place to live. They went back the next day, “We have a place to live, but now, we need transportation. It’s the middle of nowhere. Can you help us get a bus or pick us up or do something?” He goes, “You know what? That’s collective bargaining.”
Kerry Kennedy (23:45):
Dr. Mark Hyman (23:45):
You’re all fired. Fired them all.
Kerry Kennedy (23:48):
Dr. Mark Hyman (23:51):
That’s no longer allowed in New York.
Hi, everyone. I hope you’re enjoying the episode. Before we continue, we have a quick message from Dr.
Dr. Mark Hyman about his new company, Farmacy, and their first product, the 10 Day Reset.
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Now, back to this week’s episode.
Kerry Kennedy (25:13):
This is what happened in New York. The real miracle story of farm workers in the United States over the last 50 years is, of course, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in the United Farm Workers in California. All of the progress they made in California did not impact other states. You have to go state by state by state, because we don’t have that federal rule. There’s an organization in South Florida, which you mentioned, that you were marching against Wendy’s.
Dr. Mark Hyman (25:49):
Kerry Kennedy (25:50):
Ran into my daughter, Mariah, a few months ago on behalf of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. That is an extraordinary organization that really has come up with a formula that has stopped exploitation and stopped abuse and stopped sexual assault, basically, ended sexual assault among farm workers. Their model is now being used in Bangladesh for garment workers. It’s being used in Hollywood for the Me Too movement. It’s being used in the upstate in Vermont for dairy workers. They’ve done an incredible job.
Dr. Mark Hyman (26:36):
It’s an incredible story, when we go into a little bit. This is a group of farm workers from a number of different countries, from Jamaica and Mexico. They were being really abused. They weren’t given shelter from the shade. They weren’t given water. They weren’t given proper breaks. They weren’t given restrooms. They weren’t given safe transportation. They were sexually abused. All these injustice against them. They were paid not a living wage. Again, they were living in these crowded housing environments working from 5:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night. They figured out how, together, they could band together to create a movement. They sort of happened in fits and starts.
Dr. Mark Hyman (27:16):
They finally figured out that by boycotting, not the farmers who are abusing them, but the purchasers of the farm products, like Wendy’s, or like Taco Bell, they were able to pressure the supply chain to change their purchasing practices, which then, led to this fair labor sort of practices. Can you talk a little bit about how that happened and how they were successful? It’s a very compelling story. It wasn’t from the outside. It came from the inside.
Kerry Kennedy (27:52):
Yeah. It’s an amazing story of people the lowest end of the supply chain standing up and figuring out how to make things work. There’s a guy called Lucas Benitez, and Greg Asbed, and few others who came together and had it with being exploited and figured out this program. Essentially, what they do is, incidentally, they have a legal arm. They successfully prosecuted 15 cases of slavery in the United States over the last decade, 15 cases of people going to jail for enslaving farm workers picking tomatoes. How about that?
Dr. Mark Hyman (28:41):
Wow. What does slavery look like? It’s hard to imagine. Were they buying and selling people? What are they doing?
Kerry Kennedy (28:47):
Well, I’ll tell you, in one of the cases, and this was African-Americans, primarily, African-American slavery, they were going into homeless shelters and saying to people, many of whom had intellectual disabilities, “Come with us. We’ll give you food and shelter and a full-time job.” People would got into this truck, which was basically a U-Haul, with no windows, and they’re driven five hours and dumped out in a tomato field and told, “You have to pick tomatoes now 12 hours a day, seven days a week.” They’re not …
Dr. Mark Hyman (29:35):
They weren’t paid?
Kerry Kennedy (29:36):
They’re not paid, and they have no idea where they are. They have no idea how to get out there. That was one of the cases.
Dr. Mark Hyman (29:44):
Kerry Kennedy (29:44):
Another case, it was seasonal workers coming up across the Texas border looking for, “We’ve got a full-time job for you. Just get on this bus.” They go to Florida. Again, they’re taken. Now, in that particular case, they had, I think it was 24 people in one mobile home. They show everybody binoculars and show them how binoculars work. Then, they pistol-whip a couple of the workers.
Kerry Kennedy (30:25):
They’ve got guns. They say, “If any of you tries to leave, we’re going to shoot you, and we’re going to kill you. We’ve got binoculars on you all day long. You go into this field and work.” They were there for a year. They field adjoined a, what’s the biggest birdwatching association?
Dr. Mark Hyman (30:54):
The Audubon Society?
Kerry Kennedy (30:58):
Yeah. It adjoined in the Audubon Society. They just saw tons of people with binoculars looking at them all day long.
Dr. Mark Hyman (31:06):
Kerry Kennedy (31:08):
How about that? Can you imagine? If anyone from the Autobahn Society thought those are being enslaved and that they were being exploited. That’s what was happening. What they did was they went to consumers. Then, they got consumers on board, mostly on college campuses, starting in college campuses, then, generally. Then, they went to the big buyers, like McDonald’s and Burger King and others, the fast food companies, and Walmart.
Kerry Kennedy (31:44):
They said, “You have a danger of slavery in your fields. All you have to do is comply with the Fair Food Program, and we will guarantee you that you don’t have this side chain disruptions, and that you’re treating your people fair.” Eventually, almost all those companies came around, but Wendy’s is still holding out [crosstalk 00:32:17].
Dr. Mark Hyman (32:16):
How about in Publix, right? Publix, they can read.
Kerry Kennedy (32:19):
Publix, as well. Wendy’s is a national trend chain. Publix is local to Florida. Basically, what the Fair Food Program does is it’s a worker-driven social responsibility. Most social responsibility compacts are written by the CEO or the legal team or the marketing team. This is written by the workers. What do you need in order to feel safe? We need sanitation in the fields. We need to be able to wash our hands. We need to be paid from the moment we get on the bus, not the moment when we can start working in the field, all those types of things.
Kerry Kennedy (33:04):
Then, they have an agreement that they’ll train all the workers in those fields. They do trainings once every about two months, so that everybody knows their rights and knows how to report the abuses. Then, the abuse has continued to happen, usually, in a field for another year. Once everybody understands that they’ll be held accountable for abuse, the abuse is stopped. That’s what they’ve been able to produce. [crosstalk 00:33:41].
Dr. Mark Hyman (33:42):
The Fair Food Program is pretty amazing, because it really was generated from the workers, and in order for a company to say they are Fair Food purchaser and be part of that and get the credibility with the consumer, they have to agree to do these things, including paying a penny more per pound.
Kerry Kennedy (34:00):
Dr. Mark Hyman (34:00):
That doesn’t sound like very much, but it doubles the wages of these farm workers.
Kerry Kennedy (34:04):
Dr. Mark Hyman (34:04):
They did it without passing on that to the consumers. Then, the amazing provisions, things that we would all think are just something we should already have in America, like no forced labor, no child labor, no violence, minimal wage, paid workers for all their work, no sexual abuse. These are things that we all should expect. Freedom to report unsafe treatment and abuse, access to shade and clean water. Just things that we take for granted, most of us, being transported in safe vehicles, rather than riggery things that are going to fall apart.
Dr. Mark Hyman (34:36):
Actually, how to actually leave the field if there’s pesticide spraying? I think the data from a doctor’s point of view is so striking to me, Kerry. When you look at CHAMACOS study in Salinas, California, the chemical exposures and the pesticides, even there were a lot of reforms in California, there’s still tremendous exposures. The workers there are 59% more likely to get leukemia, 70% more likely to get stomach cancer. They’re more likely to get cervical cancer, 63%. What’s really striking is in breast milk. These kids are really born pre-polluted. It’s pretty scary. 40% more pesticides, and then breast milk.
Dr. Mark Hyman (35:15):
These kids have neurological impairment. They lost 41 million IQ points in this population. They’re using chemicals that are banned in most other countries like Atrazine, Paraquat, nicotinamides, and dichloropropene, which is one of the most harmful ones and most widely used in California. It’s like, “Wow, we were living in a democracy where equal rights and human justice are.” We’re all like the sort of, apparently, the paragon of human rights. We call out all these other countries. It’s terrible, especially in these workers.
Dr. Mark Hyman (35:51):
Your dad went out to meet Cesar Chavez in the ’60s. He was on a hunger strike and helped to break the strike by getting the attention that was needed on their plate, and made some real reforms. When you look at the data today, when your dad was going down to the Mississippi Delta, 30% African-Americans, 23% Latinos within poverty compared to 8% of whites. Today, it’s the same. It’s about 26% of African-Americans, 24% of Latinos more, and 10% of whites. In some ways, we’ve made progress, but in some ways, we haven’t. How do we go forward to sort of deal with these health and human rights inequities and economic disparities that are driving so much suffering?
Dr. Mark Hyman (36:33):
We see it now even, Kerry. I think you’re probably aware of the data. Even COVID-19 is attacking these populations, Native Americans, Hispanics, African-Americans. In Chicago or Louisiana, African-Americans are 30% of the population, but 70% of the deaths. It’s because of the structural violence and these inherent inequities in our society. How do we begin to sort of change the narrative so people understand that we still have this in America, and we still have communities where there’s 20 or 30 years difference in life expectancy, depending on your zip code.
Kerry Kennedy (37:05):
I’m so glad you’re raising all those issues, Mark. Look, first of all, we’re living in one filmmaker 10 years ago called Idiocracy.
Dr. Mark Hyman (37:25):
I got to see that film. Tell me about it.
Kerry Kennedy (37:28):
We’re living under a family that is completely corrupt. We’ve handed over a country to a group of mobsters. What Jared Kushner did at the beginning of COVID is just handing all the contracts over to his friends and his cronies, instead of to the bidders who could most likely help our country is just one example of it. I think we can start there. We need to vote these guys out. The Republican Party, the RNC is putting $20 billion, “b,” not million, $20 billion in defending lawsuits for stopping voter registration drives and objections to voter’s rights.
Kerry Kennedy (38:36):
This is a group of people who does not want us to live in a democracy. We have to be aware of that, aware of how they’re stealing our right to vote. We have to fight against that. That’s one thing. Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” There’s nothing good about COVID, but I think people are becoming more aware of, as you pointed out, the detrimental impacts of people who are living in poverty and people of color in our country, and how this is increasing those divides.
Kerry Kennedy (39:24):
I think the other silver linings of this is there’s a much, much greater appreciation for family. There’s a much greater appreciation for the need for community. There’s a much greater appreciation for connectedness with the earth. People want to be outside. They want to be among trees and plants. They want to be with their friends. This is a moment. There’s also kind of a spiritual revival that’s going on of unity and of love and of gratitude for what we do have.
Kerry Kennedy (40:11):
I think we need to harness that energy of community and of light and say, “We’re all in this together.” How do we reform our economic system? How do we build a vibrant and strong medical system, public health system, so that we can address all of these issues in a united way, not just for the United States, not just for the US and Europe and our usual allies, but for China and South Asia? What are the lessons that we can learn from South Korea and we can learn from New Zealand that has shown us how to deal, grapple with these issues? How do we do this together as a united world?
Dr. Mark Hyman (41:09):
It’s hard to imagine a silver lining in all this. I think if we stop and think about what really matters, like the things you’re talking about, we’re going to realize we don’t want to go back to normal, because normal wasn’t so good.
Kerry Kennedy (41:21):
Yeah. [crosstalk 00:41:23].
Dr. Mark Hyman (41:23):
We want a new normal that incorporates a lot of these issues. I do have some hope, because when I see the bipartisan legislation that there is the relief packages that is coming out, there’s problems with them, for sure, but there is a sense of, “We have to step up and we have to create a safety net for our society. We have to help our citizens and we have to protect them.” I think, even though it’s done in a clunky way, it’s sort of amazing to me.
Dr. Mark Hyman (41:49):
In Washington, which seems so attractively broken, that there is movement and it’s quick and it’s helping in small ways. I think I have hope. I am always an optimist. I don’t know if it’s justified or not. I do see there are dark forces. I think there’s dark money. I think we have to be aware of how to focus on bringing back our democracy. I think the stories like you told, like the Immokalee Workers and other efforts, RFK Human Rights is doing is so compelling.
Dr. Mark Hyman (42:22):
I just feel reminded of that famous speech your father gave in South Africa, which you talked about in our Robert F. Kennedy Ripples of Hope, your book, which everybody should get because it’s very inspiring. He said, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lives of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope 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 sort of get chills every time I read that. I think it’s sort of been the guiding light for me.
Dr. Mark Hyman (42:58):
They also like to quote George Bernard Shaw. I love that quote, which is an amazing and inspiring quote, which is, “Some men see things as they are and say why I dream of things that never were, and say, why not?” Despite all the obstacles and all the challenges we face and all the dark forces that are arrayed against us, I think there’s a lot of light. I think we have to keep focusing on that.
Dr. Mark Hyman (43:21):
This is a moment where it’s calling us to attention. Part of me thinks this is God giving humanity a timeout. Go to your room. Think about what you’re doing and how to change it. Maybe, you can speak a little bit about the themes that you talked about in Ripple of Hope and how that influences you and the work of the RFK Human Rights, and also, your life.
Kerry Kennedy (43:45):
Well, thanks. In RFK Ripples of Hope, I interviewed people who have made a difference on the world stage and who are inspired by Robert Kennedy, people like Tim Cook, Tony Bennett, a wide range of people, John Lewis and others, and Dolores Huerta. Good thing that came out of that book or became crystallized for me is that the essential thing to know about my dad was about his moral imagination.
Kerry Kennedy (44:30):
Really, that saved us, his ability to understand things from the other person’s point of view and do it with compassion and love. I think that’s what saved us from nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis when the military industrial complex was really marching Jack, Uncle Jack, to war.
Dr. Mark Hyman (45:01):
Otherwise known as President Kennedy.
Kerry Kennedy (45:04):
[crosstalk 00:45:04] and saying, “You have to drop a bomb on Cuba.” Uncle Jack didn’t want to do that. Meanwhile, Khrushchev was giving all these very warmongering speeches. My father thought, “He doesn’t want to go, either. He’s also got that same group of people on his side who are saying, ‘You got to go to war.'” They started a secret back channel of communications.
Dr. Mark Hyman (45:33):
It was your dad who was that communicator, right, with the Russian-
Kerry Kennedy (45:36):
Dr. Mark Hyman (45:38):
… with the Russian ambassador?
Kerry Kennedy (45:39):
Exactly. You got it, Mark, exactly. They were able to come together and realize that there was a way forward and that if the two leaders could talk, they could get us to peace. That was the same tactic my dad used when Martin Luther King died on April 4th, 1968. Daddy was campaigning in Indiana and this plane landed in Indianapolis.
Kerry Kennedy (46:10):
He got a call from the mayor of Indianapolis, white Mayor Richard Lugar at that time, who said, “You’re supposed to go and give a speech at a rally in the largest African-American neighborhood in Indianapolis. You can’t go because, already, 125 cities have started rioting and looting and burning across our country with the news about Martin Luther King. It’s too dangerous.” Let me just remind you that Dover, Delaware was in a martial law for nine months after April 4th, 1968.
Dr. Mark Hyman (46:45):
Kerry Kennedy (46:46):
No alarming. People think [crosstalk 00:46:48] it was bad, then. Really violent and scary. Lugar said, “You can’t go there. Even if you do go there, I won’t allow my police to go with you because it’s too dangerous for my cops. I’m not going to put them in harm’s way.” My father said, “With all due respect, Mr. Mayor, you might not be able to go there, but I’ve worked with that community for years and years. I could go there tonight with my pregnant wife and my 10 children and nothing would happen to me.” He went.
Dr. Mark Hyman (47:23):
There’s a word we use for that in Judaism. It’s called chutzpah.
Kerry Kennedy (47:30):
The front of the crowd had been waiting for this, before cell phones, had been waiting for him for hours and they had [crosstalk 00:47:37]. Back the crowd, people heard about King. They came with Molotov cocktails and bicycle chains. They were ready to riot. My father got up and he just spoke spontaneously. He said, “I have some very bad news for you. Martin Luther King has been shot and killed tonight.” He said, “For those of you who are angered by the injustice of this act and tempted towards violence, I can say I understand that feeling, because I had a member of my family who was killed by a white man with a gun.”
Kerry Kennedy (48:18):
Now, can you imagine somebody running for president talking to a crowd ready to riot and saying, “I understand your feeling”? Just impossible. Then, he went on to say, “What we need in the United States is not division and violence, and lawlessness, but justice and a sense of compassion towards those who still suffer in our country, whether they be black or they be white.” Then, he urged people to go home and say a prayer for the King family and a prayer for our country. That night, Indianapolis was peaceful and the rest of the country burnt.
Dr. Mark Hyman (48:58):
Kerry Kennedy (49:00):
That’s what we need in our country today. We need that leadership. We need that vision. We need that self-confidence to stand up and to go into the danger zone, but to do it with compassion and love and openness to the pain of others. That’s not what we’ve got up at the top, but we do have it in other places. I think people’s instinct is to say, “There’s nothing I can do. What can I do? I don’t have the power. I’m not a president. I’m not a senator. I’m not [crosstalk 00:49:48].” There’s stuff we can do. Some things you can do and some people just getting out of bed in the morning, you did that?
Dr. Mark Hyman (49:57):
Kerry Kennedy (49:58):
Congratulations. That’s a good thing. You did it. Do something nice. Go, wash the dishes. Give blood. All these hospitals need blood now. Call the blood bank. See if you can give blood. Do something. Do something for someone else. That’s how you feel empowered. That’s how you’re no longer a victim. Do something for somebody in your.
Dr. Mark Hyman (50:24):
It’s so much of what your family has done. It’s been in service for the last, I don’t know, 60, 70, 80 years, a long time. I just interviewed a Yale Professor, Laurie Santos, who was talking about happiness. One of the best ways to actually activate your own happiness is by serving others. There are biological reasons for it. I think, it’s easy to think of me and mine and what I have to do to protect all that.
Dr. Mark Hyman (50:51):
It turns out that we’re all in this together, and that by standing up for what matters, whether it’s a small injustice or a large injustice, actually, helps us be happier and be a better contribution to our families in our lives. It’s such a great example that your family has put forth. I think that inspires me every day. I think about how can I add to those ripples that are out there in the world. It’s something that I hope everybody takes from this conversation, because you don’t have to be a policymaker or run a big company.
Dr. Mark Hyman (51:23):
You actually can make a difference. It’s those small little x, those little ripples that make all the difference. Thank you, Kerry. This is an amazing conversation. I continue to be inspired by you and the work of the RFK Human Rights for so long. In the work that you’re doing, you’re not only doing this here in America, but around the world. You’re training others how to do this. Your work has just touched so many lives and so many people. It continues to do that. I just really honor you and thank you for this amazing work.
Kerry Kennedy (51:54):
Thanks, Mark. Sending you a cyber-hug.
Dr. Mark Hyman (51:59):
COVID-hug, right? One last question, if you were a president or a queen or were in charge, what were the things you would start with to change to deal with what’s going on today in the world to create more just and humane meanwhile for us all?
Kerry Kennedy (52:20):
Just one minute. Mark, if you asked me about a couple of years ago, I would say, empower women, because across the board, the one thing that has been proven to really, really change things most immediately is when women are empowered, women are educated, women have more say at corporations or in government, et cetera. That’s [crosstalk 00:52:50] thing. I have something else, instead.
Dr. Mark Hyman (52:55):
Before you go to the next thing, I just want to say, most people don’t realize this, but most of the countries now that have successfully controlled COVID-19-
Kerry Kennedy (53:02):
Are run by women.
Dr. Mark Hyman (53:02):
… are run by women.
Kerry Kennedy (53:03):
Dr. Mark Hyman (53:03):
New Zealand or Germany.
Kerry Kennedy (53:06):
Well, let’s just say Germany, among the Europeans, is doing better, but it’s nowhere close to New Zealand or South Korea, or South Asia. We need to look more closely at South Asia.
Dr. Mark Hyman (53:19):
Kerry Kennedy (53:20):
Anyway, the thing that I would say today, if there’s one thing I could do to dramatically impact human rights, environments, all the issues, poverty, that we care about, for the next generation is I would dramatically increase the emotional IQ of the next generation. We can do that through social emotional learning. That’s one of the things that RFK Human Rights is doing now. We’re teaching where education materials go to about 54 million students each year, kindergarten through law school, on human rights and social emotional learning. If we can increase people’s moral imagination, the way we deal with each other, the way we walk through life, our own inner spiritual selves, our gratitude, our love of beauty, our joy, that’s what’s really going to make the difference.
Dr. Mark Hyman (54:29):
I couldn’t agree more. I wonder when are you announcing your candidacy for President of the United States, because I would vote for you. That is what America needs. I think if we did have more of that moral imagination and emotion intelligence, this would be a very different world. You’re right, we have to start with our kids. We neglect them in that way in a way that, I think, borders on abuse in this country. I feel like we have a moment where we can wake up to that. I just think that is an amazing call to action.
Kerry Kennedy (54:56):
All right, Mark, good to be with you. Love you, sweetie.
Dr. Mark Hyman (54:59):
Good to be with you. Thank you. Thank you for listening to Doctor’s Farmacy. If you love this conversation, please share with your friends and family. Leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you. We’ll see you next time on the Doctor’s Farmacy.