Ferguson Protest DC

In the wake of Ferguson and a series of young Black male deaths at the hands of official law enforcement personnel (and one self-appointed neighborhood watchman who cost Trayvon Martin his life), I hope we will use this November time of Thanksgiving and celebration of Native American Heritage month by some first Americans, as an opportunity for national and personal soul searching and discussion about what it means to be an American. I also hope we will recommit to doing what we can to serve, speak up, and work with others to build a nation where every child is safe, seen, heard, respected and hopeful, and every parents’ son and daughter is valued and justly treated.

On the cusp of a holy season for Christians and Jews, it is timely to remember and help America remember that the kinship of human beings is more important than the fellowship of race and class and gender in a democratic society. We must all try harder to be decent and fair and insist that others be so in our presence by not telling, laughing at or tolerating racial, ethnic, religious, or gender jokes — or any practices intended to demean rather than enhance another human being. Walk away from them. Stare them down. Make them unacceptable in your presence. Through daily moral consciousness we must all counter the proliferating voices of racial and ethnic and religious division that are regaining too much respectability over the land. And let’s face up to rather than ignore our deep-seated and growing racial problems while applauding the great progress we have made. We must all struggle to wake up and recognize that our ability to compete and lead credibly in a majority non-white world is as inextricably intertwined with our poor and non-white children as it is with our white and privileged ones, with our girls as well as our boys.

Let’s not spend a lot of useless time pinning blame and denying rather than thoughtfully examining the root causes of our country’s systemic racial disparities and healing our divisions. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel put it aptly: “We are not all equally guilty, but we are all equally responsible” for building a decent and just America and ensuring the safety and hopefulness and opportunity of every child. So I offer a prayer for all of us in this time of national trial.

“I Care and Am Willing To Serve and Work To Protect All Children”

Lord I cannot preach like Martin Luther King Jr.

or turn a poetic phrase like Maya Angelou and Robert Frost,

but I care and am willing to serve and stand with others to build a movement to protect all our children.

I do not have Harriet Tubman’s courage, or Eleanor Roosevelt’s and Wilma Mankiller’s political skills,

but I care and am willing to serve and stand with others to save all our children.

I cannot sing like Marian Anderson or Fannie Lou Hamer

or organize like Ella Baker and Bayard Rustin,

but I care and am willing to serve and stand up with others to build a powerful nonviolent movement to protect all our children.

I am not holy like Archbishop Tutu,

forgiving like President Mandela, or disciplined like Mahatma Gandhi,

but I care and am willing to serve and stand with others to protect all our children.

I am not brilliant like Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois or

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or as eloquent as

Sojourner Truth and Booker T. Washington,

but I care and am willing to serve and stand with others to protect all our children.

I have not Mother Teresa’s saintliness, The Dalai Lama’s or

Dorothy Day’s love or Cesar Chavez’s

gentle tough spirit,

but I care and am willing to serve and stand with others to save all our children.

God it is not as easy as the ‘60s

to frame an issue and forge a solution,

but I care and am willing to serve and stand with others to protect all our children.

My mind and body are not so swift as in youth

and my energy comes in spurts,

but I care and am willing to serve and stand with others to protect all our children.

I’m so young

nobody will listen

I feel invisible and hopeless, and I’m not sure what to say or do,

but I care and am willing to serve and stand with my peers and adults to save myself and all our children.

I can’t see or hear well

speak good English, stutter sometimes

and get real scared, standing up before others,

but I care and am willing to serve and lift my voice with others to save all our children.

God, use me as You will to save Your and our children today and tomorrow and to build

a nation and world where every child is valued and protected.

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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