Protect the Children

08/05/2011 10:20 am 10:20:14 | Updated Oct 05, 2011

My husband knows there is another person who has stolen my heart. His name is R.J.. He's got caramel brown skin, moves like Michael Jackson and is two-and-a half years old. R.J. is my nephew. He is Harvard bound. Yet more Black boys are likely to grow up and go to prison than to go to college.

A few weeks ago, The Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Jr. and I joined other preachers at a conference sponsored by the Children's Defense Fund. Dr. Forbes called our national budget a moral document, one that needs to put children first. Founder, Marian Wright Edelman, kept repeating, "Don't cut children," when referring to our nation's ongoing budget debates.

Programs like education, food stamps, Head Start, child care, and Medicaid affect us all because they affect our children. And they are interdependent. Children without health insurance are likely to miss more school and get behind in their grade level, but -- as discussions continue in our Capitol -- I'm afraid that our poor and our most vulnerable will not be represented in the decision-making. I'm afraid our children will be impacted.

A recent study by the Children's Defense Fund, A Portrait of Inequality 2011, shows that even though Blacks represent 12.6 percent of our nation's population, Black children have surpassed White children in being critically impacted by societal issues. Black children are three times more likely to be poor as White children. Black children are 63 percent more likely than White children to be uninsured. And Black men age 18 and older are only 5 percent of the total enrolled in college but more than 36 percent of the prison population.

Some of our nation's leaders may be indifferent to the plight of Black children, but that is
shortsighted. In the not so distant future, people of color will be the majority in the United States. How will they compete in a global market if they have a poor education? How will America compete? The boomers are aging. How will today's children support programs like social security if many have low paying jobs or are unemployed?

As people of faith, how do we want to be remembered when we look back on these budget discussions? The Christian scriptures are rich with imagery about what God is like: a mother hen caring for her children, a rock in which we can be sheltered from the storm, or a very present help in times of trouble.

I John 4:16 says "God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them." God abides in those who love.

Nobody loves like children. They don't come to earth with the ability to hate; they learn that. They aren't born with prejudice and fear; they learn that. They often continue to love through rejection, humiliation and abuse. A child's love is unconditional; children need to love and trust those around him or her for support. God lives in every child.

According to the Children's Defense Fund, every 34 seconds a baby is born into poverty and every 42 seconds a child is abused or neglected. The clock ticks. I hope budget conversations will happen as though God lives in every child.

Decisions about the budget and the debt ceiling will continue throughout the presidential campaign. Leaders will wrestle with these issues. No one wants to lose. But I am afraid the children will lose. Legislators might not protect the children.

No matter when you read this, I encourage you to call your elected officials and ask them to protect education, food stamps, Head Start, child care and Medicaid. And after you make that call, think about how to put children first in our communities of faith where children of different economic and ethnic backgrounds have the opportunity to grow together.

Our budget will reflect the opportunities R.J. and his friends have. My young nephew knows how to imitate Michael Jackson. He sings the phrase, "Man in the Mirror", but he does not understand what these lyrics mean:

As I turn up the collar on my favorite winter coat, this wind is blowing my mind. I see the kids in the street, without enough to eat; who am I to be blind, pretending not to see their need ...

I'm starting with the man in the mirror; I'm asking him to change his ways. No message could have been any clearer: if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make that change.

I hope we know what the lyrics mean, and we do it.