Thanks for the ‘heads up’ from Joanne Roll (Colombia 1963-65)
In 1978, C. Payne Lucas and Kevin Lowther published Keeping Kennedy’s Promise: The Peace Corps, Unmet Hope of the New Frontier. It was critical of some aspects of Peace Corps. Kevin wrote a follow-up summary of the book in 2002, and repeated the criticisms. Here are Kevin Lowther’s comments on the book.
Keeping Kennedy’s Promise: The Peace Corps’ Moment of Truth
Kevin Lowther (Sierra Leone –65)
The Peace Corps — and the society from which it springs — has not always faced hard truths. This was so when we first published Keeping Kennedy’s Promise in 1978. It is no less true today, in a world — and a country —which needs the Peace Corps even more than it did at its founding in 1961.
Many of those who helped to create and build the Peace Corps in the 1960s regarded Keeping Kennedy’s Promise as heresy. We demythologized the Peace Corps, in effect, by pointing out that too many volunteers were not culturally sensitive and that too many were being placed in jobs that did not need doing or which they were not equipped to do. It was the exceptional volunteer, as one senior staff member noted, that allowed the Peace Corps to believe that the vast majority were living and working in the “superstar” image. President John F. Kennedy had promised that the Peace Corps would send volunteers with real skills to perform real jobs that no one else was available to do. We documented that the Peace Corps, blinded by its good intentions and its own propaganda, had consistently breached Kennedy’s promise. It is still doing so.
The Peace Corps continues to evade another harsh truth: It has never genuinely reflected America’s ever-growing ethnic diversity. Although there have been frequent efforts to redress this imbalance, they have been underfunded and essentially marginal. The Peace Corps remains overwhelmingly white, even as the ethnic hue of American society, and the world at large, becomes visibly darker by the year. Fewer than 700 volunteers of Asian, Hispanic or African descent were serving in the Peace Corps as of early 2002, representing barely 15 percent of the total. This is about half of the current minority proportion of the American population.