By Jack Kemp
September 20, 2000 for Townhall.com
In the years since I served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Bush administration, I have told thousands of people the story of Alice Frazier, a remarkable African-American woman who lives in southeast Washington, D.C.
Alice graced the front pages of our newspapers back in 1991 when she excitedly and audaciously hugged the queen of England upon meeting her for the first time at her new home on Drake Place. Alice was a new homeowner, thanks to her efforts and those of the many volunteers who helped build her home in a public-private partnership like Habitat for Humanity.
Habitat, founded 24 years ago by Millard and Linda Fuller and whose most famous volunteer is former President Jimmy Carter, is also a public-private partnership dedicated to building and renovating houses and making them available to low-income people on affordable terms. In the words of Habitat’s mission statement, we want to put “decent houses in decent communities in which people can live and grow.”
When the queen visited Washington, I had the privilege of introducing Alice to her, but Alice was so excited about showing off her new home that before I could say a word she rushed right past me, threw her arms around the queen’s shoulders and gave her a big bear hug.
That certainly raised some British eyebrows, but when asked by their press why she had broken centuries-old rules of protocol against a commoner touching royalty, Alice smiled and said, “I just wanted the queen to see my palace.”
Drake Place – now called Queen’s Stroll – was once the murder capital of D.C. There were more homicides in this neighborhood, more crime, more drugs, more social pathologies, than anywhere else in the city. While the home-ownership program there might not have created nirvana, it clearly contributed to a reduction in drugs, crime and homicide in this wonderful part of the District of Columbia.
It was the profound benefits of private property and home ownership that motivated Abraham Lincoln to pass the Homestead Act of 1862, and that’s what motivated me to get involved in Habitat more than 10 years ago and now to take on the audacious goal of raising a half-billion dollars and building 100,000 homes in the next five years in Habitat’s campaign we call “More Than Houses,” even though it took Habitat 24 years to build the first 100,000.
Millard started Habitat almost 25 years ago, and at a recent ceremony on 134th Street in New York’s Central Harlem he, President Carter and I helped dedicate the 100,000th home. Mayor Rudy Giuliani was also in the audience as the new homeowners, Mercedes and Colin Baynes, got up to express their feelings. Their words of appreciation and thanksgiving brought tears to our eyes. Mercedes showed everyone the huge blister on her left hand from working so long on her own home alongside hundreds of volunteers and said she hoped the blister “never goes away” so that she could rub her roughened hands over the cheeks of her children so they would know how hard their mother and father had worked to give them a share of the American dream.
Seldom in my life have I been as moved as I was when listening to her speak. It reminded me of Alice Frazier and the hundreds of other people helped by Habitat. And it reinforced for me the abiding truth that property and home ownership affect people in profound ways that create a foundation from which they can go on to realize their potential. Next Habitat will dedicate the 100,001st home in Plains, Ga. Eugene and Michelle Huegley will be new homeowners, and for the first time in their lives the entire family will be able to live on their own, together under the same roof. When he received the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Martin Luther King said, “I have an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in humankind.” This is the spirit behind what Habitat for Humanity is doing to help our nation live up to America’s promise of equality of opportunity for every child so that every American can get his or her shot at not just the American dream, but the dream universal, as well. As a friend and fan of Jimmy Carter, I am joining him and the Habitat family all over the world to build another 100,000 homes in the next five years on the premise that “The highest form of charity is to prevent someone from having to take charity.” Those are the words of Maimonides, the 12th century rabbi who authored Mishneh Torah, a code of Jewish law. I hope everyone who believes those words will also find a way to help Habitat for Humanity eliminate substandard housing in America during this first decade of the new century. Together, we can do it.