ColumnistsMarian Wright EdelmanOp-EdOpinion

Child Watch: The Monster of Poverty

Marian Wright Edelman

By Marian Wright Edelman
NNPA Columnist

Each year at Halloween, our neighborhoods are bustling as children go door to door dressed as zombies, vampires, skeletons or something else fantastic and scary. For many children Halloween is the rare occasion to indulge in a fun time of ghost stories and goblins and trick or treats. But at the end of the night they put away their costumes and make-believe in their closets and return to their normal lives.

Sadly, too many children do not have normal or safe or protected lives and their monsters are real. They do not have closets in many homeless shelters or on the streets or church steps where they sometimes live with homeless parents. They are not safe in drug and violence infested neighborhoods and suffer chronic hunger especially on weekends and during long summer months when school is out.

It should not and does not have to be this way! It is shameful that children are the poorest group in America because of unjust political choices and skewed values that help the wealthiest and powerful at the expense of poor and voiceless children. Consider this:

• The latest poverty statistics show 14.7 million poor children in America; 6.5 million in extreme poverty – a slight improvement but far from enough. Our goal must be to end child poverty in America and the misery it breeds now. It is unacceptable that:
• Nearly 1.3 million public school students were identified as homeless during the 2012-2013 school year, 100,000 more than the year before and an 87 percent increase since 2007;
• In 2011, 19,350 children and teens died or were injured by guns – more than 18 classrooms with 20 students every week.
• Nearly 8.6 million children — 1 in 9 — lived in households where children did not always have enough to eat in 2013, a rate 27 percent higher than before the recession.

The monsters these children face are not acts of God but the results of our unjust choices as a nation. We must work together to wrestle the monsters of poverty, homelessness, hunger, and gun violence to the ground.

Ending child poverty in the world’s largest economy should be a no brainer. Children cannot afford the burden of poverty. And our nation cannot afford the costly economic and moral burden of child poverty. Child poverty costs our nation half a trillion dollars every year in lost productivity and extra health and criminal justice costs.

As a country, we cannot hope to build a strong competitive future if we continue to allow millions of children to grow up poor and without the health care and education and other supports those of us who are more privileged enjoy.

Below is a deeply moving poem by my friend Ina Hughs that reflects the angst of poverty for children far better than I can.

A Prayer for Children© (By Ina J. Hughs)

We pray for children
who put chocolate fingers everywhere,
who like to be tickled,
who stomp in puddles and ruin their new pants,
who sneak Popsicles before supper,
who erase holes in math workbooks,
who can never find their shoes.

And we pray for those
who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
who’ve never squeaked across the floor in new sneakers,
who never “counted potatoes,”
who are born in places we wouldn’t be caught dead,
who never go to the circus,
who live in an X-rated world.

We pray for children
who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
who sleep with the dog and bury goldfish,
who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money,
who cover themselves with Band-aids and sing off key,
who squeeze toothpaste all over the sink,
who slurp their soup.

And we pray for those
who never get dessert,
who watch their parents watch them die,
who have no safe blanket to drag behind,
who can’t find any bread to steal,
who don’t have any rooms to clean up,
whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser,
whose monsters are real.

We pray for children
who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
who like ghost stories,
who shove dirty clothes under their bed and never rinse out the tub,
who get visits from the tooth fairy,
who don’t like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
who squirm in church and scream in the phone,
whose tears we sometimes laugh at and
whose smile can make us cry.

And we pray for those
whose nightmares come in the daytime,
who will eat anything,
who have never seen a dentist,
who aren’t spoiled by anybody,
who go to bed hungry and
cry themselves to sleep,
who live and move, but have no being.

We pray for children who want to be carried,
and for those who must.
For those we never give up on,
and for those who don’t get a second chance.
For those we smother,
and for those who will grab the hand of anybody kind enough to offer.

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is 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. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

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Marian Wright Edelman

Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life. Under her leadership, CDF has become the nation’s strongest voice for children and families. The Children's Defense Fund’s Leave No Child Behind® mission is 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. Mrs. Edelman served on the Board of Trustees of Spelman College which she chaired from 1976 to 1987 and was the first woman elected by alumni as a member of the Yale University Corporation on which she served from 1971 to 1977. She has received over a hundred honorary degrees and many awards including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, the Heinz Award, and a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship. In 2000, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writings which include: Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change; The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours; Guide My Feet: Meditations and Prayers on Loving and Working for Children; Stand for Children; Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors; Hold My Hand: Prayers for Building a Movement to Leave No Child Behind; I'm Your Child, God: Prayers for Our Children; I Can Make a Difference: A Treasury to Inspire Our Children; and The Sea Is So Wide and My Boat Is So Small: Charting a Course for the Next Generation.

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