No society can survive without children. The rhetoric that holds children to be our greatest national resource is true, but the reality is that we do little to demonstrate any conviction of its truth….”
Shelia B. Kamerman (1980)
We concluded the first edition of our book, The African American Child: Development and Challenges, with the preceding quote from Shelia Kamerman. As we revise and prepare material, research, and statistics for the second edition of our book, I think back to this quote and ask, “What significant changes have happened in the lives of African American children in the past six years?” After a great deal of thought, I identified two major legislative initiatives that I believe and hope will have significant and long term impacts on improving the quality of life for African American children and their families. However, even with these legislative initiatives, poverty, violence, infant mortality, mass incarceration of neighborhood residents remain a constant in the lives of African American children and their families.
The first piece of legislature is the Affordable Health Care Act, signed into law by President Obama. As a result of this law, many more African American children will have access to quality health care. In the last six years, there have been significant advances in the diagnosis and treatment of sickle cell anemia, and there have been concerted and focused efforts to find a cure for this disease and an increase in the number of support programs available to these children and their families. However, HIV/AIDS continues to be a persistent health issue for many African American infants and children.
The second piece of legislature is the Race to the Top educational initiative, which replaces the very controversial No Child Left Behind Act. With the implementation of this initiative, the focus for many children in general, and African American children in particular, will now be on the process of learning, rather than the product of learning. Ideally, this initiative will be effective in closing the ever persistent “achievement gap.”
Where do we go from here? That is, how do we, as a nation and as a community, demonstrate the conviction that African American children are one of our most valuable resources?
Communities in which African American children live and reside must be empowered. This empowerment involves using a “traditional grass roots” approach where African American parents and community leaders serve as valuable resources to educators, politicians, practitioners, and researchers on identifying the ways in which they think their community can be utilized as a tool for changing the lives of African American children. A great example of such a grass roots approach is the Core Change Program located in Cincinnati, Ohio, started by Dr. Victor Garcia. Concerned with the high level of gun violence in Cincinnati and the resulting murder of a four year old, Dr. Garcia assembled a coalition of medical doctors, community leaders and parents, researchers and universities to address the holistic needs of this community.
It is my hope that every time we think back on Ms. Kamerman’s quote, we will discover that many more positives have occurred in the lives of African American children as a result of recent initiatives and the continued grass roots efforts of local communities.