Youth Justice


As we take stock of the current state of America’s children and the desperate need to change direction for the future, some ancient wisdom can give us a blueprint for setting sail and getting our children to safe harbor. Everything our nation and all of us need to know about life can be learned from Noah’s Ark according to an anonymous writer.

Lesson One: Don’t miss the boat. The United States is going to miss the boat to lead and compete in our globalizing world because we are not preparing the majority of our children for the future. The greatest threat to America’s national security comes from no enemy without but from our failure to invest in and educate all of our nation’s children. Every 11 seconds of the school day a child drops out. A majority of children in all racial and income groups and almost 80 percent and more of Black and Hispanic children in public schools cannot read or do math at grade level in fourth, eighth, or 12th grade—if they have not already dropped out. Any nation that is failing to prepare all of its children for productive work and life needs to correct course—now. And all of us—parents, educators, community, religious and political leaders—need to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. God did not make two classes of children. Every single child needs and deserves a quality education.

Lesson Two: We are all in the same boat. Many Americans may not like or think they have any self interest in assuring a fair playing field for other people’s children—especially poor and minority children,but Black, Hispanic and other children of color will constitute a majority in 2019. Isn’t it better to have them supporting the Social Security and Medicare systems and making sure a productive workforce is in place, rather than for us to be supporting them in costly ineffective prisons? Our states are spending three times more on average per prisoner than per public school student. I can’t think of a dumber investment policy. We need a paradigm change from punishment to prevention and early intervention.

Lesson Three: Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the Ark. Tomorrow is today and children have only one childhood. They need to be healthy now. They need quality early childhood experiences now. They need first-rate schools with first-rate teachers and stimulating high quality out of school time programs now. And they need to know that there is a good-paying job after college in their future. We must resist our quick fix, quarterly profit driven culture and invest in the future.

Lesson Four: Don’t listen to the critics and naysayers. Just get on with the job that needs to be done to educate our children. If you don’t want to be criticized, don’t say anything, do anything, or be anything. Stand up and fight for children, all of them.

Lesson Five: For safety’s sake, travel in pairs. Better still, travel in groups able to make a ruckus loud enough to be heard. We have got to stop those who are rhetorically hijacking Dr. King’s and America’s dream but subverting his call to end the poverty, excessive militarism and excessive individualism that’s killing the dreams and hopes of millions of children. How can we justify massive tax giveaways to the richest two percent and continue tax loopholes for wealthy corporations at a time when 15.5 million children are languishing in poverty?

Lesson Six: Remember that the Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic by professionals. We must all use our citizen power, and vote to wrest our ship of state from that small group of experts and powerful corporate leaders who recklessly jeopardized all of our lives for personal gain. Use your own power to make a difference.

Final Lesson: Build your future, build our children’s future and our nation’s future on high ground. Let’s leave our nation and world better than we found it—more just, more hopeful, more peaceful, more productive, and more unified. This may be the first time in our history when our children and grandchildren will be worse off than their parents and grandparents. We must correct course with urgency and do whatever is necessary to get them to safe harbor.

We have pushed so many of our children into the tumultuous sea of life in small and leaky boats without survival gear and compass. I hope God will forgive us and help our children to forgive us. I hope we will work together with urgency to build the transforming movement required to give all of our children the anchors of faith and love, the rudder of hope, the sails of health and education, and the paddles of family and community, to keep them safe and strong when life’s sea gets rough.