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Changing the Odds Black Children Face Today

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By Marian Wright Edelman

Never have our children needed your and my help more. A Black boy today has less than a 1 in 1,250 chance of becoming an NFL player; a 1 in 4,600 chance of becoming an NBA player; about a 1 in 2,000 chance of getting a Ph.D. in mathematics, engineering, or the physical sciences; a 1 in 548 chance of becoming a doctor; a 1 in 195 chance of becoming a lawyer; and a 1 in 53 chance of becoming a teacher.

But that same Black boy has a 1 in 13 chance of going to prison before he turns 20; a 1 in 6 chance of going to prison before he dies; a 1 in 7 chance of never graduating from high school (a sentence to economic and social death in today's economy); 5 in 6 chances of never graduating from college; and about a 1 in 2 chance of being a current alcohol abuser.
A Black girl today has a 1 in 6,000 chance of getting a Ph.D. in mathematics, engineering, or the physical sciences; a 1 in 390 chance of becoming a doctor; and a 1 in 155 chance of becoming a lawyer. But that same Black girl has a 1 in 125 chance of becoming a current crack user; a 1 in 28 chance of going to prison before she dies; a 1 in 8 chance of never graduating from high school; 4 in 5 chances of never graduating from college; and about a 1 in 3 chance of having a child before her 20th birthday.
The chances of a young Black male being incarcerated at any given moment more than tripled from 1970 to 1999. In 1970, one in 46 Black males 18-29 were in prison; in 1999, one in 14 were. The prison guard industry is one of the most powerful in America; their fodder is our youth—the fathers and mothers and professionals so essential to Black progress. There are more young Black men in prison at any given moment than there are Black doctors, lawyers, judges, and high school teachers combined. Over half of our state and federal prisoners reported having a child under 18. African American children are 9 times more likely to have an imprisoned parent than White children. And too many of our children are being tracked for prison from birth by poverty, drugs, and violence as too many churches stand idly by.
The importance of these facts and the need for every Black adult and leader to join in a movement to save Black children and families cannot be overstated. These numbers add up to a human and social and moral disaster for our community and for the nation. What can Black adults do?
1. Wake up, speak up, and provide our children safe havens from the streets, drugs, and gangs and provide them caring adults who protect rather than abuse them. CDF and its Black Community Crusade for Children (BCCC) have helped develop and know about many models and best practices to help you reach out to children. And CDF-Haley Farm near Knoxville, Tennessee, which serves as our center for spiritual renewal and leadership development, can provide needed training.
2. Practice what you preach. All adults must stop telling children to do one thing while we do another and betraying the trust children have in our institutions. You are either part of the problem or part of the solution. If our children see faith leaders and adults disrespecting family values and engaging in practices which erode respect, they lose trust just as they distrust political and corporate officials steeped in hypocrisy. And if they feel abandoned, unprotected and unvalued in their lives, they will not value other people's lives.
3. Stand up and fight for our children left behind. Medgar Evers and Dr. King and so many others did not die so that a few of us could go to the White House or governor's house for a photo-op or to have a few individuals sit on corporate boards and enrich themselves at the expense of children and needy families. Our faith requires us to be God's hands and feet and voices and votes for the helpless, lost, and left behind. Our personal success is not the end-it is the means to bless others.
4. Join the movement and help pass the comprehensive Act to Leave No Child Behind. Since Dr. King's death, the Children's Defense Fund has been crying out in the wilderness about the urgent needs of our children. We've made significant but incremental progress. Millions of children have received health care, child care, a Head Start and the protection of new laws we drafted and helped pass. But it's not enough.
We are grateful we were able to persuade Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Representative George Miller (D-CA) to introduce the comprehensive Act to Leave No Child Behind in 2001 defining what it truly means to Leave No Child Behind. It is based on 30 years of research, experience, successes, and model development. The entire Black Caucus has endorsed it. Now let's work together to pass it.
(For more information and to learn about the Movement to Leave No Child Behind® and what you can do, call 1-800-CDF-1200, visit www.childrensdefense.org, or write The Children's Defense Fund, 25 E Street NW, Washington, D.C., 20001.)
Marian Wright Edelman is President and Founder of the Children's Defense Fund whose mission is to Leave No Child Behind‚ and 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.

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