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In many American schools the holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday is used as an opportunity to teach children about his life and legacy. But in too many of those same schools, Black and other nonwhite and poor children’s extraordinary talents are still being wasted today. Nearly three-quarters of Black and Latino fourth and eighth grade public school students cannot read or compute at grade level. Long after legal segregation has ended Black students are still most likely to be excluded from the classroom: Black students made up only 18 percent of students in public schools in 2009-2010 but were 40 percent of students who received one or more out-of-school suspensions. A Black public school student is suspended every four seconds. When Black students are so often left behind and pushed out it should not surprise us that Black students are more than twice as likely to drop out of school as White students; each school day 763 Black high school students drop out.
Children are not little adults. Adolescents are not the same as adults. We’ve known this for years. The research showing that their brains are still developing is clear. Although young people act on impulse, they have the ability to positively change and have a productive future.
All across the world people joined together to mourn former South African president and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. There was a deep shared sense of loss at the passing of one of the rare human beings who truly helped change the world.
In the last few days of this year, most Americans are wrapping up their holiday celebrations and pondering the promise of 2014. But millions of Americans who have been struggling the longest to find work in our slowly recovering economy are now facing deep uncertainty and despair instead of a Happy New Year. The budget deal Congress finally reached in December did not extend emergency unemployment insurance benefits for the long-term unemployed and 1.3 million struggling jobseekers are losing those desperately needed survival benefits on December 28. Unless Congress acts immediately in the new year to extend these benefits, huge numbers of struggling jobseekers will be affected: the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates almost five million jobless workers will lose benefits over the next twelve months. The President’s Council of Economic Advisors estimates that if Congress lets emergency unemployment insurance expire, it will cost the economy 240,000 jobs and impact families with 3.6 million children by the end of 2014.
As millions of Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Christmas and their belief that God entered human history as a poor tiny baby, let us remember all the poor babies and children who struggle to live and realize their God given potential in our own rich land and all around the world today. And commit to act to assure hope and justice for them all.
In the year since six-year-old Ben Wheeler was murdered by a gun in his classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut along with nineteen other first graders and six teachers, more than 30,000 other Americans have been killed by a gun—30,000 more families now drowning in the same grief.
This second decade of the 21st century is a crucial one for the children in America and for the nation’s future. When the Children’s Defense Fund began 40 years ago I never would have dreamed that in 2013 our work would be so unfinished and would be so hard. Although we have come far we are at a precarious moment when so many important gains have been partly eroded by a global recession, long term economic challenges, and the lack of investments in our children.
While many American families gather around the Thanksgiving table this week, some of us combining this year’s traditional dinners with Hanukkah feasts, a too quiet group will be left out of the national celebration. The nearly 49 million Americans—including nearly 16 million children—living in food insecure households will be struggling to afford the food they need. These families won’t be choosing between apple or pumpkin pie this holiday season but will face choices about paying for groceries or rent, heat, electricity, medicine or clothing for their children as they do each month—choices no family should have to make in our nation with the largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world.
“It should be clear by now that a nation can be no stronger abroad than she is at home. Only an America which practices what it preaches about equal rights and social justice will be respected by those whose choice affects our future. Only an America which has fully educated its citizens is fully capable of tackling the complex problems and perceiving the hidden dangers of the world in which we live.”
These are words from President John F. Kennedy’s “Unspoken Speech” he was on his way to deliver at the Dallas Citizens Council’s annual meeting when he was assassinated in his motorcade on November 22, 1963.
The introduction this week of the Strong Start for America’s Children Act by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Richard Hanna (R-NY) is a hugely important and long overdue step forward towards leveling the playing field for children, especially poor and low income children. Investing in them in their early years to be ready for school will provide a foundation for future success with lifelong benefits for them and economic and social benefits for our entire nation. Its enactment would demonstrate our commitment as a nation to doing what we know works for all of our children as research shows that poor children can perform as well as nonpoor children if we provide them the supports to do so.