“The future has its eyes on you.” That was the message children enrolled in Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools summer programs across the country heard and shared as they participated in this year’s National Day of Social Action on July 20. CDF Freedom Schools programs encourage students in grades K-12 (known as “scholars”) to excel and believe in their ability to make a difference in themselves and their families, schools, communities, country and world with hope, education and action. Every summer scholars participate in a National Day of Social Action. This event has been a regular part of CDF Freedom Schools programming since the program’s beginning, and gives young people a chance to participate in collective action and use their voices to express their desire for change and their vision for a more equitable future. Above all, the National Day of Social Action reinforces CDF’s message that children are never too young to make a difference.
This year’s theme was “Climate Justice is Racial Justice. CDF Freedom Schools,” as leaders partnered with Youth vs. Apocalypse, a diverse group of young climate justice activists working together to lift the voices of youth, especially youth of color and working class youth, to fight for a livable climate and an equitable, sustainable and just world. At CDF Freedom Schools sites across the country, scholars took field trips to science museums, shared youth-produced videos, wrote letters to their elected officials, learned about clean water and other needs in their communities from local experts, and found many other ways to learn more and share their urgent message.
This year’s National Day of Social Action felt especially relevant during a week when record-breaking extreme weather made headlines around the world and at home, including in many of the states and communities where our scholars live. Children have their eyes on what adults are doing and not doing. When Time magazine named then-16-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg their 2019 Person of the Year — making her the youngest person ever honored — it noted she represented a new wave of young people who refuse to accept the world adults have created for them: “She is a reminder that the people in charge now will not be in charge forever, and that the young people who are inheriting dysfunctional governments, broken economies and an increasingly unlivable planet know just how much the adults have failed them.” Time added: “Leaders respond to pressure, pressure is created by movements, movements are built by thousands of people changing their minds. And sometimes, the best way to change a mind is to see the world through the eyes of a child.”
When we look outside through a child’s eyes, we are reminded that the earth is the Lord’s, the psalmist says, and we should rejoice in it — not destroy it! When we look at our nation and world through our children’s eyes and hearts we are able to see how much urgently needs action. These are overarching children’s and human survival issues that often don’t seem to matter to military, corporate, and political greedies who continue to threaten our existence by stealing billions of resources for the few instead of investing those resources to eliminate poverty and spread hope. But children understand the world they want and deserve. I am so proud of CDF Freedom Schools scholars and all young people who are doing their part to build that better world right now.
Edelman is founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund.