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Fifty Years Later: Children and Youth Still Waiting to Live the Dream

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"Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children."

It's been 50 years since the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King voiced those words as he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech during the 1963 March on Washington. If only that part of the dream had come true.

Half a century later the doors of opportunity for children and youth of color have opened only slightly. In fact, they're in danger of slamming shut if sequestration continues and Congress makes good on its threat to cut SNAP, TANF, and other programs that offer families a step up out of poverty.

Dr. King also had an amazing ability to pull people together across generations, economics, and races. With so many children of color at risk, now is a perfect time to use his inspiration and come together across generations to provide a strong and effective voice for ensuring their well-being. Yes, older adults can and must provide a loud voice for children and youth on Capitol Hill, in state capitals, and regionally and locally.

"...America has given the Negro people a bad check, which has come back marked, 'insufficient funds'... We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation."

Dr. King was right in refusing to accept that our nation could not afford opportunity for people of color; the subsequent rise of black and Hispanic middle classes supports his belief. But the opportunity has spread only so far. Today, as was true back in the early 1960s, disproportionate numbers of people of color -- especially children and youth -- continue to live in poverty and want, their opportunities severely limited.

A new study by the Foundation for Child Development bears this out. Titled Diverse Children: Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration in America's New Non-Majority Generation, the report provides "comparisons of child well-being across White, Hispanic, Black and Asian race-ethnic groups, as well as comparisons between children within these groups whose parents are and are not immigrants."

Here are just a few of the findings:

• 71 percent of Hispanic children with immigrant parents and 65 percent of all Black children with US-born parents fell below twice the federal poverty threshold.

• Median family incomes for Black children with U.S.-born parents and Hispanic children with immigrant parents were the lowest of all eight groups studied, at $29,977 and $33,396 respectively. (That compares with a median family income for white children of US-born parents of $74,310.)

• In 2010, only 37 percent of Hispanic children with immigrant parents and 42 percent of Hispanic children with U.S.-born parents were enrolled in pre-Kindergarten. The rest of the groups ranged from 50 to 55 percent -- just about half of all children.

• And in the areas of reading and math, Black and Hispanic children scored very low in terms of proficiency.

These findings indicate a clear lack of opportunity and proficiency for children of color -- a lack that will greatly affect their future success in life.

Why should that matter to you? Well, by the year 2043, people of color will comprise the majority of the U.S. population. If we fail to help all of our children gain the skills they need to succeed, how can they possibly compete in an increasing global marketplace?

The findings also provide an incentive for older adults to come together to advocate for these children. It's time to act because children's advocacy groups cannot do it alone. Older adults must familiarize themselves with organizations that stand up for children's rights, such as Generations United's Seniors4Kids and the Alliance for Children and Families. Then, join the fight with us. Let our decision makers and politicians know that you stand for kids and won't allow them to be ignored.

While intergenerational advocacy may be new to many, the time is right for the generations to come together to help assure the health and well-being of the children in this country unable to reach their fullest potential.

Are you game?