Youth Justice


In the wake of Ferguson and a series of young Black male deaths at the hands of official law enforcement personnel (and one self-appointed neighborhood watchman who cost Trayvon Martin his life), I hope we will use this November time of Thanksgiving and celebration of Native American Heritage month by some first Americans, as an opportunity for national and personal soul searching and discussion about what it means to be an American. I also hope we will recommit to doing what we can to serve, speak up, and work with others to build a nation where every child is safe, seen, heard, respected and hopeful, and every parents’ son – and daughter – is valued and justly treated.

On the cusp of a holy season for Christians and Jews, it is timely to remember and help America remember that the kinship of human beings is more important than the fellowship of race and class and gender in a democratic society. We must all try harder to be decent and fair and insist that others be so in our presence by not telling, laughing at or tolerating racial, ethnic, religious, or gender jokes – or any practices intended to demean rather than enhance another human being. Walk away from them. Stare them down. Make them unacceptable in your presence. Through daily moral consciousness we must all counter the proliferating voices of racial and ethnic and religious division that are regaining too much respectability over the land. And let’s face up to rather than ignore our deep seated and growing racial problems while applauding the great progress we have made. We must all struggle to wake up and recognize that our ability to compete and lead credibly in a majority non-White world is as inextricably intertwined with our poor and non-White children as it is with our White and privileged ones, with our girls as well as our boys.

Let’s not spend a lot of useless time pinning blame and denying rather than thoughtfully examining the root causes of our country’s systemic racial disparities and healing our divisions. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel put it aptly: “We are not all equally guilty, but we are all equally responsible” for building a decent and just America and ensuring the safety and hopefulness and opportunity of every child. So I offer a prayer for all of us in this time of national trial.

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.