While meeting at the popular MoKaBe's Coffeehouse, I came across a button that struck my eye. It read “Black Kids’ Lives Matter.” Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. I promptly bought five of them.
I thought about the button slogan when I reviewed the recent "Children of Metropolitan St. Louis Report." The report has been published bi-annually by Vision for Children at Risk (VCR) since 1991. The data is based on 40 indicators grouped into six fundamental needs. These are Family Support, Early Childhood Development, Maternal and Children Health, Quality Education, Youth Development and Safe Neighborhoods and Strong Communities. The data is available by zip code for St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County. Across the river, it picks up Madison and St. Clair counties.
In the City of St. Louis, over 40 percent of children live below the poverty line. In Madison County, Illinois, one of five children live in poverty. These are not good indicators for future success.
The operative word in VCR's agency name is "Risk," so you can conclude that African-American children are most at risk. The report for the tenth time illustrates the wide and deep disparities and racial inequities in the region between white, affluent areas and black, poor areas.
This is not news for those of us in the child-developing arena. The same quality-of-life assessments have been made in other reports. For the Sake of All. Kids Count Data Book. Missouri Budget Project. Annie E. Casey Race for Results Report. Forward Through Ferguson. The list goes on.
The obstacles that black children confront in this country can’t be told only through indexes although indicators like poverty are too powerful to ignore. Our young and most vulnerable can’t escape the anti-blackness that is rampant and destructive in this country.
Every day, I am observing the psychological and spiritual demise of our black children. They are being beat down before they even have a chance to grow and prosper. The sparkle evaporates from their little eyes before they start school. Their adorable smiles are replaced with furrowed frowns. Their open hearts become calloused over time in the hostile and high-maintenance environment where racism lives. The trauma is undeniable.
Black kids have become the canary in the coalmine of this moribund society. They are screaming for attention. They are fighting for their lives. Most times, it is without sufficient adult support and compassion.
If we apply the same wisdom from the Black Lives Matter mantra to black kids – that no lives matter until black lives matter – then we must start earlier with putting safeguards in place that a promote healthy and holistic trajectory from childhood to adulthood.
This means no more criminalizing of black children and implementing laws and policies that cripple their development, like making school fights a felony.
If we follow the directives of Forward Through Ferguson, we must put children at the center and use a racial lens to ensure we're working in the best interests of Black kids. All the reports are clear: Right now, we are working against the best interests of black kids and their families.