What’s on the minds of many high school students these days—the start of a new school year, getting a driver’s license, worrying whether they’ll make the team, perhaps daydreaming about college and sweating over SAT exams? But that’s not what three Black male high school students told a Children’s Defense Fund audience this summer they’re thinking and worrying about.
“If I tell you a smile could save a life, would you believe me? A smile can save a life. There was a gentleman, a young gentleman … named Kevin. Kevin was one of those children who did well in school and had great grades. People liked Kevin. Kevin was a handsome young man. But Kevin was a miserable young man. Kevin suffered from depression. Kevin decided that he was going to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and jump. … Kevin said, ‘If there’s one person who would smile at me or ask me if I was okay, I would not jump.’ Kevin jumped.”
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the world’s leading peace and justice advocates, has called Bryan Stevenson “America’s Nelson Mandela.” He has gotten innocent men off death row, successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court multiple times, including to ban “death sentences” — capital punishment and life imprisonment without parole for offenses committed by juveniles. In June this man of great moral clarity and brilliance spoke about “How to Keep Black Boys Alive” to 2,000 college-age Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® servant leaders at CDF-Haley Farm. He focused on how we can break up the Cradle to Prison Pipeline™ that feeds 1 in 3 Black and 1 in 6 Latino boys born in 2001 into America’s morally indefensible and unjust mass incarceration system.
Many children and families eagerly look forward to the end of the school year and the carefree days of summer, playing outside in the warm sun, splashing and swimming in pools and at beaches, and gathering with family and friends for backyard barbeques. But for more than 17 million children the end of school can be the end of certainty about where and when their next meal will come. While 21.7 million children received free or reduced price lunches during the 2013-2014 school year, only 2.6 million children-12.2 percent-participated in the Summer Food Service Program. This huge participation gap suggests that nearly 9 out of 10 of the children who benefit from free or reduced price lunches during the school year may not be receiving the nourishment necessary for proper physical, cognitive, and social development during the long summer months. Hunger has no vacation.
I’m grateful for a powerful new book, Girls In Justice by artist Richard Ross, a follow up to his moving earlier Juvenile In Justice, which combines Ross’s photographs of girls in the juvenile justice system with interviews he gathered from over 250 detention facilities across the United States. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the deeply disturbing photographs speak volumes. Ross uses the power of photography to make visible the hidden and harsh world of girls in detention. These heartwrenching images coupled with the girls’ ages and life stories should move us to confront the cruel and unjust juvenile justice system in our nation. These girls are ours: our neighbors, our children’s classmates, our daughters and granddaughters, sisters, cousins, and nieces — and, for some young children, our mothers. Girls In Justice begs the questions—why are so many girls, especially girls of color, confined in our nation’s detention facilities, and what are we as a society going to do about it?
The growth in hate groups and the use of their divisive and negative language in the mainstream political and media arena is cause for national alarm. Already this year several horrendous hate crimes, possible hate crimes, and crimes committed by people with ties to hate groups have received national attention.
The Children's Defense Fund has just released a new report, The State of America's Children 2011, which paints a disturbing portrait of child needs across our country. With rampant unemployment, housing foreclosures, homelessness, hunger, and massive looming federal and state budget cuts, children's well-being is in great jeopardy. One in five children is poor and children are our nation's poorest age group.
The Honorable Patricia Martin, who serves as the Presiding Judge of the Child Protection Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, is the president-elect of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges. In this key role she is devoted to helping change children's lives. She previously chaired the Supreme Court of Illinois Judicial Conference Study Committee on Juvenile Justice, and spent a decade as an assistant Cook County Public Defender.
A few months ago a group of earnest and determined stockholders traveled together by bus from Washington, D.C. to Nashville, Tennessee to attend a shareholders' meeting. On the surface, it sounded like a fairly ordinary trip, but this was an unusual group on an extraordinary mission.
Adults often start conversations with children by asking them what they want to be when they grow up. We tell them to dream big, and encourage them by giving them pretend doctor's kits, fancy dress-up clothes, and other toys that let them imitate adult life.
The state of Missouri has created a juvenile justice system that has proved so successful over the last thirty years it's known as the "Missouri Miracle." A number of practices combine to make Missouri's system unique: It's primarily made up of small facilities, generally designed for between ten and thirty youths, located at sites throughout the state that keep young people close to their own homes. These facilities don't look like jails with traditional cells; there are only eight isolation rooms in the entire state, which are seldom used and only for emergency situations. They feature a highly trained and educated staff working in teams with small groups of youths.
When young Black men are the victims of violent injuries in their urban neighborhoods, what happens next? This question haunted Dr. John Rich, who was educated at Dartmouth, Duke, and Harvard, was a primary care doctor at Boston Medical Center, and was the founder of the city's Young Men's Health Clinic. In both settings he was in constant contact with young men who had been victims of violence, and of course he was deeply concerned about the physical scars he kept treating. But as a Black doctor dealing with the aftermath of violence in young Black men day after day, Dr. Rich felt a special connection with his patients and wanted to know about more than just the medical effects of the gunshot and knife wounds he was seeing.
A homeless man talking about how he ended up on the streets said he had wanted to get in with the "cool" crowd in 8th or 9th grade—a crowd that smoked marijuana, got into fights, and skipped school. No adult reached out to help him turn his life around so he continued his decline into a life of chronic joblessness and poverty, and long stretches of incarceration after he dropped out of school.
I'm deeply disturbed that after a decade of decline, the number of firearm deaths among children and youths has increased for the second year in a row. Our 2009 "Protect Children, Not Guns" report released in September reveals that almost nine children and teens die from gunfire every day—one child death every two hours and 45 minutes.
Hundreds of thousands of our nation's children are being funneled down life paths that lead to arrest, conviction, incarceration and even death. The urgent challenge for each of us and for our nation is to prevent this waste of our children's lives and of our nation's capabilities and future.
Nationally, one in three Black boys and one in six Latino boys born in 2001 are at risk of going to prison during their lifetimes. Although boys are more than five times as likely to be incarcerated as girls, the number of girls in the juvenile justice system is significant and growing.
At the Children's Defense Fund's Cradle to Prison Pipeline® Summit in Sacramento, California, we heard from young people from Missouri and California who are trying to get out of the pipeline with the help of caring adults.
Glenn Loury, a professor in the Department of Economics at Brown University, has long been one of the nation's most outspoken Black intellectuals. For many years he was a leading conservative voice on topics like affirmative action, and whenever he focuses on a policy issue affecting the Black community, people pay attention...