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Child Watch® Column: "A Continuing Portrait of Inequality: The Black Child in Today’s America"

Release Date: January 31, 2014

Marian Wright Edelman

“The world does not want and will never have the heroes and heroines of the past. What this age needs is an enlightened youth not to undertake the tasks like theirs but to imbibe the spirit of these great men and answer the present call of duty…”   --Carter G. Woodson

Carter G. Woodson, son of former slaves, pioneering Harvard-trained historian, founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, and inspirer of Black History Month, sought to teach future generations of Black children about the great thinkers and role models who came before us. He was very clear that celebrating our rich Black history of struggle and courage was not the same as getting stuck in the past, but if we are going to understand the present and protect the future we must understand where we came from and what it took to get us here. Black History Month is not just for Black Americans. It is for all Americans as we are at the tipping point of a country where the majority of our children are non-White. Black history is American history. We can all be inspired by the progress made but clear about the progress that still remains to be made if we are going to move forward. We should use the extraordinary leaders from our history as examples to help us with the critical task of preparing this generation of children to be the new leaders our community and nation need right now.

The Children’s Defense Fund’s recent report on The State of America’s Children 2014 shows children of color are already a majority of all children under 2 and in five years children of color will be the majority of all children in America. All of our children—including all of our Black children—truly must be ready in critical mass to take their place among the workers, educators, members of the military, and political leaders of tomorrow. America is going to be left behind if our children are not enabled to get ahead and prepared, in Dr. Woodson’s words, to “answer the present call of duty.” Yet CDF found the state of Black children in America today is grim.

Black children are sliding backwards on our watch and the Black community needs to wake up and the country needs to wake up and do something about it with urgency and persistence. Black children are more than three times as likely to be poor as White children. A Black baby is born into poverty every two-and-a-half minutes. Over 4 million Black children (40 percent) were poor in 2012, compared to 5.2 million White children (14 percent). Twenty-five percent of poor children are Black although Black children are only 14 percent of the child population. In six states—Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon, and Wisconsin—half or more Black children are poor, and nearly half the states have Black child poverty rates of 40 percent of more.  

Just under 40 percent of Black children live with two parents, compared to 65 percent of White children and 85 percent of Asian children. Each day, 1,153 Black babies are born to unmarried mothers and 199 to teen mothers. Although the percent of children born to unmarried mothers has increased for both Black and White children, nearly 3 in 4 Black babies are born to unmarried mothers compared to less than 1 in 4 White babies. Black children living with single mothers are three-and-a-half times as likely to be poor as Black children living with married parents.   

Black children suffer worse health outcomes. Black babies are more than twice as likely as White babies to die before their first birthdays and Black children are twice as likely to die before their 18th birthdays as White children. Black babies are more likely to die before their first birthdays than babies in 72 other countries, including Sri Lanka, Cuba, and Romania. Although 95 percent of all children are now eligible for health coverage, Black children are 40 percent more likely to be uninsured than White children and over 1 million Black children (9.5 percent) are uninsured. Access to health coverage is not actual coverage until we make every effort to enroll every child.

Children who cannot read or compute are being sentenced to social and economic death in our competitive globalizing economy and too many Black students fall behind in school early on and do not catch up. Black children begin kindergarten with lower levels of school readiness than White children and our country has been very slow in investing in high quality early childhood programs unlike many of our competitor nations. More than 80 percent of fourth and eighth grade Black public school students cannot read or compute at grade level and Black children are more than twice as likely to drop out as White children. Each school day, 763 Black high school students drop out. Black students scored the lowest of any racial/ethnic group on the ACT® college entrance exam. Only 5 percent of these Black high school students were college ready compared to 33 percent of White students and 43 percent of Asian students.

Black children are at great risk of being funneled into the prison pipeline. A Black boy born in 2001 has a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison in his lifetime. The schools are a major feeder system into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. 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 4 seconds of the school day. A Black child is arrested every 68 seconds. Black children and youth make up 32 percent of children arrested and 40 percent of all children and youth in residential placement in the juvenile justice system. Black children are overrepresented in abuse and neglect cases and in foster care. 

Gun violence is the leading cause of death among Black children ages 1-19 although there is no hiding place for any of us from pervasive gun violence in America. Each day, three Black children or teens are killed by guns. Black children and teens are nearly five times more likely to die from gun violence than White children and teens. The number of Black children and teens killed by guns between 1963 and 2010 is 17 times greater than the recorded lynchings of Black people of all ages between 1882 and 1968. Where is our equivalent anti-lynching movement today to give our children a chance to grow up safely?

I hope this Black History Month is not just about our history but about our obligation to protect our children and move our nation forward in our multiracial world. I hope it is a call to action to the Black community and every community to build the long overdue movement to stop the backwards slide of children of color on our watch and end the disgrace of letting children be the poorest group in the world’s richest economy. If America does not begin to get it—that our future is entwined with our children’s futures—we’re going to miss the boat to the future.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Steeleflowers at: February 5, 2014
"It takes a village to raise a child", rings true now more than ever.

Submitted by Howard at: February 4, 2014
We must also use nontraditional ways in the development of our youth. My program use the art of jazz music and the sport of golf to introduce kids to science, math, reading and character.

Submitted by Peanut at: February 3, 2014
This article was very informative and eye opening to me. My thought is that we have to start long before black babies are born. Not only in educating the white race about this, but also in reaching out to black parents and young black children before they are old enough to have children. We need to reach out to them to teach them about parenting, birth control until they are ready to parent, teaching them about child development, etc. I don't know the answer to how to reverse the slide of black children, I wish I did because I would be out there doing something. Perhaps it is starting small, volunteering to work with groups who work with the black families, and maybe the effect of a program would snowball for the families and the volunteers. As this article points out, it is imperative that we all do whatever we can. The future history of our company will depend on stopping the blackside, in all races of children. Thank you Ms. Edelman for your eye-opening article and for making me think what can I do to rectify this situation.

Submitted by Ellie at: February 3, 2014
It's very important data and information but what would you advise one to do in our own communities. I've been praying and thinking about trying to establish an NBCDI chapter in our town?? Please advise me on what can be done. Thanks so much for ALL that you do for All the children in the World!!

Submitted by young hottie at: February 2, 2014
Why is it this is the second time my children have been taken by the government over some minor scratches and allegations, while the whites only get theirs taken for MAJOR offenses. Stand behind a black single mother, because the father's of these children sure aren't

Submitted by rontay at: February 2, 2014
This is a great article. However, the Golden rule is "He who has the gold makes the rule" and when the rules are made and "His Story" records the reults. Yhe gold mongers cares ONLY abour his offsprings. We as a Race can do little to offset the status quo in this country with the blessings of the Gold Mongers short of revolution.

Submitted by Cherrionne at: February 1, 2014
It touches my heart to not only hear but see what is happening to our younger generation.. I just cant phantom the thought only because as a grandmother giving her own Guidance as to what to expect when you leave the nest. Only to be Shot down when they take Flight. We need to teach them that their still are stranger amongst us...

Submitted by Jalica at: February 1, 2014
There are days that have passed that my mind filters to bridging the gap between white students and black students here in Mississippi. This is looking at creating a school for the ages of 1st graders to 7th in preparing a better building of character for the youth that is sometimes lost under parents to provide the enrichment necessary to meet the demands of a mixed society that still perpetuates negative views of black children.

Submitted by Kim at: February 1, 2014
How do we develop "enlightened" youth? Many articles I read lay out the problems black youth face. Where are the articles that challenge us to consider initiatives and actions that are developing enlightened black youth who are prepared to lead and be civically engaged? It seems we focus much of our efforts and funding on "at risk" youth. I agree, there are tremendous needs and we must help at risk youth. I also see a tremendous need (that we seem to ignore) to develop talented african-american youth for leadership and civic engagement. We must identify these students at a young age, from all SES backgrounds, and surround them with the education, networks and social-emotional skills they will need to lead. We must continue to engage the pipeline of change agents. If we don't, we will find too many of the structural systems flooded with educated folk who have no connection with the black community or experience. It's time to help our young people to use their education and careers toward civic endeavors that will continue to shape our society and help change life outcomes for our young people who are most at risk.

Submitted by Rev/ Scott at: February 1, 2014
I think Dr. Edelman's column is always on time. However, it is the most informative column this month representing Black History Month. Our people need to be informed. I have out to our constituents across the states requesting that they take time to read and pass along and join in the effort to make a difference for our children in the CME church and others who may read. Thank you Dr. Edelman. It is so very sad seeing what is happening to our children.

Submitted by Char at: February 1, 2014
That is a very sad column. So now black children think they will have more power, or parents thought incrasing the population would help, but they still have not diminished the achievement gap, so mow there are more poor black children. Who can afford children in this economy. How can you raise them to maximize their potential if the nutrition is inadequate,sleep is inadaquate, and mentoring for school is non existent. Who prepares the children for being productive members of society. Who teaches them the value of an education, especially if one hasn't been able to get a job even with the education. When our current society believes that they have the right to be executioner when they hold a gun, how will this improve the quality of life for the children, and mentor them in hope for a better future,with the freedoms and opportunities have offered. Is anyone showing them how to achieve this. The value of really striving for it It will not fall into their laps.

Submitted by january37 at: February 1, 2014
Dear Ms Edelman, I wish I could do more than just appreciate your persistence and work on this subject. Constantly knocking on the door of freedom will force freedom to answer yes. However, it is taking way too long. I hope you like the google tribute to Harriet Tubman. It feels sanitized but people may be encouraged to look into it nevertheless.

Submitted by Called to Action in LA at: February 1, 2014
Thank You.

Submitted by Called to Action in LA at: February 1, 2014
Thank You.

Submitted by Called to Action in LA at: February 1, 2014
Thank you!

Submitted by T.O.P. at: February 1, 2014
This, by far, is one of the most passionate and thought provoking articles I have read in a great while. I have no childre but they have been my passion since my early teen years. This has rekindled that fire. Thank you. God bless your efforts.

Submitted by Eric at: January 31, 2014
This article hits the nail on the head. I have been saying this for the last 20 + years and have seen the decline in our people. I have served the public and tried to better our neighborhood and it's like the community has given up. The ministers only want the almighty dollar and care less about facing the white establishment that controls the cities. The gangs control our community and people are afraid to stand up to them. Black on black crime is excepted in the black communities, namely because many are kin to each other.

Submitted by flora at: January 31, 2014
As a teacher in a majority minority school, I find these statistics especially disturbing.

Submitted by RICHARD RALPH ROEHL at: January 31, 2014
Good article. Informative... and heartbreaking on so many ways. Hmmm... 85% of Asian children live in a two parent household? Not to sound snarky, but maybe we should also have an Asian history month to find out what they do right... at least 85% of the time.

Submitted by Anonymous at: January 31, 2014
Kids need all the breaks they can get to get anywhere in this world.