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.
Congress is about to strike a deal that takes care of seniors and doctors but leaves low income and “at risk” children short. Congress’ annual struggle to avoid cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates so physicians will continue to give seniors the care they need is widely considered must-pass bipartisan legislation
Fifty years ago I traveled from Mississippi to Selma, Alabama on March 21st, 1965 to join Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and thousands of fellow citizens marching the 54 miles to the steps of the state’s capitol in Montgomery. Millions of Americans now know about this march thanks to the movie Selma and the recent 50th anniversary celebration. Selma was the site of a courageous voting rights campaign by Black citizens which was met by brutal Southern Jim Crow law enforcement and citizen violence. The nation was shocked two weeks earlier when John Lewis and Reverend Hosea Williams set out on a nonviolent march with a group of 600 people toward Montgomery to demand their right to vote and were brutally attacked by lawless state and local law enforcement officials at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The televised images of “Bloody Sunday” and the savage beatings of the marchers—including Congressman Lewis whose skull was fractured—were a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights Movement and in America’s struggle to become America. It provoked the thousands of us (ultimately about 25,000) who came together later to finish the march, safer thanks to Federal District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr.’s order that we had a right to peaceful protest and with National Guard protection. And we were buoyed by President Johnson’s March 15th, 1965 address calling on Congress to pass what became the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
What do we stand for as a nation and who do we wish to be? In a 1968 speech at the University of Kansas, Senator Robert Kennedy correctly worried too many used our vast wealth to measure greatness that said nothing about the goals and values that should matter most in our nation. Our Gross National Product—now almost 19 times larger—includes many things for us not to be proud of. How well is America doing today on the things that should matter most—the well-being of our children and families and the quality of justice and life in our communities and nation?
One of my sheroes is Sojourner Truth. A brilliant but illiterate woman, she was a great orator and powerful presence who possessed great courage and determination. I often wear a pendant with her image and words: “If women want any rights more than they’s got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.” An unwavering defender of women’s rights and an abolitionist, Sojourner continues to fuel my determination to fight for equality for women, people of color, and children left behind. She was born into and lived nearly three decades in slavery but dedicated her life to combating slavery and gender inequality and second-class citizenship. She never gave up talking about or fighting for justice and equality. Sarye Huggins is a high school senior who knows her Black history and has also been inspired by Sojourner Truth.
For fifty years Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) has been the primary source of federal funding targeted to schools to serve poor children. Its purpose has been to raise achievement for poor children through extra support to their schools to help meet their greater educational needs. Sadly, from the beginning states didn’t keep their end of the bargain
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?
When many people hear child poverty in America the first stereotype is an inner city child and discussions about solutions to poverty often focus on concentrated poverty in urban areas. But in a nation where over 16 million children, more than one in five, are poor, the plain truth is that child
Across the country it’s back to school time. I hope it is a year full of promise and not disappointment and added stress for all children—especially those most vulnerable. I also hope this school year begins with a renewed commitment by all teachers and school administrators to help every child succeed.
Foster care is intended to be a temporary solution during one of the darkest times of a child’s life, but the average length of stay is nearly two years, and every year more than 23,000 youths “age out” of foster care at age 18 or older without being connected to a forever family.
On Wednesday, April 30, 2014, Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, testified before the House Budget Committee on the impact of the War on Poverty on children and how our nation can finish the job started by President Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago.
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.
Five-year-old Kamari and his three-year-old brother Shamarr clown around in the dining room of the YWCA Family Center in Columbus, Ohio. They and their mother, Stekeshia Harris, slept on cots in the shelter’s library for their first three nights there because there were so many homeless families needing shelter—a 330 percent increase from two years ago.
When the Children’s Defense Fund released its new report, Protect Children, Not Guns 2012 in March, we dedicated it to the memory of Trayvon Martin and the thousands of other children and teenagers killed by guns in America, including the 5,740 killed in 2008 and 2009 according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The fight to uncover the truth of what happened the night Trayvon Martin died hasn’t ended but basic facts that have never been in dispute are starkly clear.
Thousands of people across the country have poured into the streets—from New York to Sanford, Florida—to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. Hundreds of thousands more stepped up to protest online. In response to the public outcry, the Sanford Chief of Police has temporarily stepped down and the state prosecutor has stepped aside.
When a child is in mortal danger, we put out an Amber Alert to tell the whole community that we are in pursuit of the child and whoever is endangering her. It is a time of utmost urgency and everyone has to get involved, to be on the lookout, and do whatever is needed to help rescue the child in danger.