By Sondra Samuels
“There are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.”
Michelle Alexander, author, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
On January 13, Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund and Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone conducted a national press conference to discuss the findings of a recent national poll of young and old African Americans outlining our greatest concerns and challenges regarding our children (www.childrensdefense.org). Actions are now being proposed as a part of the Black Community Crusade for Children II (BCCC II) movement.
As part of that movement, I attended a critical two-day conference in December at the Children’s Defense Fund’s (CDF) Haley Farm in Tennessee along with about 140 other Black adult and youth leaders from around the country. We were all responding to a compelling invitation from Geoff Canada, Angela Blackwell (CEO of Policy Link), and Marian Wright Edelman to address what they called “the worst crisis faced by 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 youth whose life chances are less positive than their parents and White peers;
2. To get your commitment to help replace the Cradle to Prison Pipeline with a pipeline to college, productive work and successful adulthood for all Black children; and…
3. To share and discuss plans to launch the second BCCC (BCCC II) on the 20th anniversary of the launch of the first BCCC to Leave No Child Behind. (Marian proclaimed about five times during our visit that the BCCC is where that phrase actually came from.)
Twenty-two African American leaders attended the first BCCC, which was held in December 1990 in Bellagio, Italy. The meeting was co-convened by CDF, Dr. John Hope Franklin and Dr. Dorothy Height to discuss the condition of the Black child and family. It was concluded that the Black child and family were in crisis and that together they would do something about it!
As a result, they had the first nationwide poll of Black children and youths conducted. The findings then were similar to what the recent BCCC II nationwide polls revealed. In response to the findings, key actions were taken by the members of the BCCC I as outlined in a recently published CDF report:
• CDF Freedom School program, which has served over 80,000 K-12 children and trained 9,000 college mentor leaders to serve them;
• the Harlem Children’s Zone;
• youth leadership development programs reaching over 20,000 promising students and young adults;
• the purchase of the 152-acre Alex Haley Farm as the intergenerational, interracial, interfaith, and interdisciplinary spiritual renewal and servant-leadership development center for building a movement to save children;
• the annual Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry for 500 religious leaders designed to help build a new generation of social justice faith leaders in Dr. King’s tradition; and
• the involvement of many more Black leaders in policy advocacy.
At the end of the BCCC II conference, I contemplated the actions our generation of leaders would take in partnership with our elders and our youth to change the outcomes for our children. A letter from Marian Wright Edelman included a compelling call to action that I will share parts of here.
Read it as if addressed to you, because it is meant for every Black adult and youth committed to changing the outcomes for our children. And stay tuned for more information on how you can get involved in the Black Community Crusade for Children II.
“A Call to Urgent and Sustained Action”
“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. The window of opportunity with an Obama administration must be seized to establish better child investment polices and stronger, more 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.”
Sondra Samuels’ “Everything’s Possible” column appears monthly in the MSR. She welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.