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Remembering Ted Kennedy as a champion

Sen. Ted Kennedy will forever be known as a drum major for justice and a champion for the poor and downtrodden. And during the 89th anniversary of women's suffrage, Kennedy will also be remembered as a fighter for women's rights, civil rights and equality for all.

Never wavering in his pursuit of justice for those who lacked a voice, this often-described "Lion of the Senate" used his considerable clout to ensure that no American would ever be left behind -- especially the poor, the middle class, the homeless, the disabled and immigrants. Ted Kennedy fought to tear down barriers and to create opportunities.

Throughout his storied tenure as a public servant, which he served -- as in the truest sense of the word -- for more than four decades, Kennedy was the advocate for the oppressed. With enormous political skills giving heft to the soaring eloquence of his roar, he pushed through legislation that addressed their concerns, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (1993).

Kennedy was the senator who worked to champion voting rights for all Americans, including the tax-paying residents of the District of Columbia. Over the years, he moved legislation to extend the life of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 and led every major fight against those who sought to weaken civil-rights protections. When it came to the rights for disabled Americans, there was no greater supporter. And when it came to fighting for childhood nutrition programs or Title I funding to improve the academic achievement of disadvantaged children, it was Kennedy who could always be counted on to lend his voice, clout and energy.

Personally, I will remember Sen. Kennedy for being accessible. As a political strategist, I know the power of having him on your side. In 2000, he endorsed Al Gore at a crucial time during the presidential primary. He did so not with a press release, but by hitting the campaign trail on Gore's behalf with all the vigor of the candidate himself.

A few months ago, as I walked in the tunnel of the Russell Senate Office Building on my way to witness the inauguration of our nation's first black president, my sister Lisa and I ran into Kennedy and Vicki, his wife and my Louisiana homegirl. When my sister, a Katrina survivor who had to be rescued from our native New Orleans, saw the senator, she raced down the hall, shouting, "Senator Kennedy! Senator Kennedy! I just want to thank you for all your help in fighting for us down in New Orleans."

The senator, who was on a motor scooter, immediately turned around and gave Lisa that big wide Kennedy smile. For nearly 15 minutes my sister was in utter bliss as the senator asked about the fate of other family members who had also lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina and what, in Lisa's opinion, still needed to be done in Louisiana.

We gave him an update, embraced him and took photos my sister has since framed and proudly displayed.

As we joined the Kennedys on the podium for the inaugural ceremony, the senator reminded me, as he often had before, that his brother Bobby once foretold the day that America would elect its first black president. I gave him a big high five.

Let us remember that when it came to the passage of landmark legislation on civil rights and voting rights, when Americans were given the protection of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, when it came to pushing for the passage of legislation to make Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national holiday, Ted Kennedy was there.

In his memory, we must remain vigilant in pursuit of the dream. We mourn the passing of a great American. In his honor, our work continues.

In his honor, the dream will never die.

Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR; contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill; and former campaign manager for Al Gore.