As our country remembers the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., new research conducted for the Children’s Defense Fund has found the vast majority of America’s Black community, seven in 10 adults, view these as "tough or very bad times" for Black children and many see poor Black youths falling further behind. When 40 percent of Black children are born poor, 85 percent of Black children cannot read or do math at grade level in fourth grade and later almost half drop out of school, and a Black boy born in 2001 has a one in three chance of going to prison sometime in his lifetime, we know we are facing a crisis. So, an intergenerational group of Black leaders have just committed to a renewed movement to reweave the fabric of family and community for Black children and to provide a stronger voice for children in their states and nationally.
We met in December for three days at the Children’s Defense Fund-Haley Farm near Knoxville, TN to address what many of us believe is the worst crisis faced by millions of Black children since slavery. The meeting had three purposes: (1) to wake up the Black community and the nation to the ominous clouds encircling Black children and youths whose life chances are less positive than their parents and White peers; (2) to commit to replacing the Cradle to Prison Pipeline(R) with a pipeline to college, productive work, and successful adulthood for all Black children; and (3) to launch the second phase of the Black Community Crusade for Children (BCCC) on the 20th anniversary of the launch of the first Black Community Crusade for Children to Leave No Child Behind.
In December 1990, CDF co-convened with Dr. John Hope Franklin and Dr. Dorothy Height 22 Black leaders for five days at the beautiful Rockefeller Foundation Conference Center in Bellagio, Italy to discuss the condition of the Black child and family. We concluded that the Black child and family were in a crisis and that we had to take action. Efforts quietly catalyzed by BCCC include the CDF Freedom Schools(R) program, which has served over 90,000 K-12 children and trained 9,000 college mentor leaders to serve them, and the Harlem Children’s Zone, whose President and CEO, Geoff Canada, now chairs CDF’s Board and is a co-convener of BCCC along with PolicyLink Founder and CEO and CDF Board Vice Chair Angela Blackwell. A range of intergenerational youth leadership development programs have touched about 20,000 promising high school and college students and young adult leaders.
BCCC will highlight and build on these and other best practices and successes in a number of areas crucial to healthy child and youth development and move them to scale and into policy. Since the linchpins of success are leadership and education of the next generation, our goals include doubling summer Freedom Schools during the next five years; training 5,000 next generation servant-leaders of color–at least half Black males–to carry on the struggle for a fair playing field for all children; encouraging more young servant leaders in Freedom Schools and other youth leadership training programs, especially Black and Latino males, to become teachers to fill as many as possible of the expected one million teacher openings during the next four to six years (only two percent of public school teachers are Black males); helping to catalyze and mount an irresistible and sustained intergenerational movement to dismantle the Cradle to Prison Pipeline; and effective community organizing to tackle the pervasive poverty, racial disparities, miseducation, and joblessness plaguing Black children and youths.
Today, the toxic cocktail of poverty, illiteracy, racial disparities, violence, and massive incarceration is sentencing millions of children to dead end, powerless, and hopeless lives and threatens to undermine the past half century of racial and social progress. This is the moment to act with urgency, vision, and courage to combat the growing racial and class segregation in America; to close the achievement gap; to reweave the fabric of family and community; and to build a loud and effective adult voice for children. Building a powerful intergenerational movement is crucial to protecting children and transforming our nation’s addiction to punishment and incarceration as a first rather than last resort. We must establish better child investment policies and stronger, more skilled and innovative advocates, community networks, and institutions to implement them. We must increase community capacity, sustainability of practices and programs that work, and create as many effective new servant leader voices for more just national choices as possible. There is not a moment–or child–to waste.
We know what to do to provide all children a healthier, fairer, and safer start in life and the chance to reach successful adulthood. What is missing is a critical mass of caring adults thinking and acting out of the box and raising an effective and persistent ruckus to counter the forces of status quo and regression. The 140 leaders who gathered in December at CDF-Haley Farm to launch the BCCC’s second phase represented many different disciplines, skills, and gifts and the extraordinary power within our community to make the impossible possible when necessary. This is the beginning call to sustained action to do whatever is needed for as long as it takes to save the futures of millions of Black children. This is no one, two, or five year effort. Nobody is going to care more about our children than we do and the reality of Black child life today should shame and cause all of us to move into emergency action inside and outside of the Black community.
Visit the BCCC Website to learn more and to join us. Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind(R) 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 www.childrensdefense.org.