(ed. note: the following letter is from Marian Wright Edelman, renowned advocate for children and Founder/President of the Children's Defense Fund)
Dear Methodist Friends of Children,
Greetings to you in the name of Christ who was born a poor baby that we might know God’s love incarnate. Thank you for your commitment to building a faithful movement for children, for the ways that you already serve and advocate for children, and for the ways that you will increase and expand those faithful efforts.
The Pan-Methodist community has long been a vital part of building the faithful movement for children, including denominational campaigns for children, episcopal initiatives for children in poverty, engaging in the National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths, joining in the annual Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry as leaders and participants; teaching in Methodist seminaries and preaching in pulpits on the theological imperatives for justice and the care and protection of children, and the myriad ways that congregations and members have reached out and spoken out to improve the lives of children.
I am grateful for the leadership that the Rev. Dr. Luther Smith has provided to unite these many, varied efforts in the Pan-Methodist Campaign for Children in Poverty so that you may learn from each other, encourage each other, and together be a stronger and more effective community for change than any one person or congregation or denomination could alone. This Pan-Methodist Campaign for Children in Poverty website is a terrific resource to share ideas and examples of what works, get updates on advocacy actions that are needed, discover resources, find inspiration, and connect with each other.
Children need your faithful, energetic, persistent efforts now more than ever. The Children’s Defense Fund has launched a new series of stories on our web site, www.childrensdefense.org, featuring children and their parents who have fallen on very hard times. They are the real faces and fears behind our disgraceful national child poverty statistics—16.4 million poor children living in the richest nation on earth. In 2010, over a million more children fell into poverty, over half a million more into extreme poverty. Forty-three states saw increases in poverty for children under six, the most critical years for brain development. Extreme poverty, defined as an annual income of less than half the poverty level, means less than $30 a day for a family of four. Forty-one states saw an increase in extreme child poverty in 2010.
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Julia Cass traveled to Michigan for the Children’s Defense Fund to meet families with children our national and safety nets had failed catch. One of the families she met was the McKees—and as she noted, “Shoes tell the story of the McKee family’s descent into poverty.”
The shoes belonging to Skyler, 10, and Zachery, 12, are falling apart. Their sister, Jordan, 14, wears the varsity coach’s shoes when she plays on her school’s volleyball team. Less visible is hunger. The children and their parents, Tonya and Ed McKee, of Dowagiac, Michigan, sometimes went without food this summer when Ed’s unemployment insurance ran out and the family was not yet receiving food stamps. Ed was laid off his job as a breeding manager at a hog farm in 2009. Skyler told Cass he gave the birthday money he got at church to his mom for groceries, “and I told her she didn’t have to pay me back.” Skyler confided that sometimes his stomach has growled. “It’s hard, not easy like it was before where we had money and could do stuff. Now we don’t go anywhere… Sometimes we don’t have food and we just don’t eat.” Tonya said, “Ed and I went hungry some nights so we could feed the kids. A lady here in town has brought us food several times and went shopping for us several times. And our parents helped when they could. Otherwise, we didn’t know where the next meal would come from. One of my friends brought over some cereal and milk one day and the boys said, “Wow! We get cereal!”’
The McKee children are three of the new faces of child poverty in America. But as families like the McKees know, poverty hits children of all colors, all ages, and in all states. Children of color are disproportionately poor. Over one in four Black children were poor in 41 states and the nation’s capital, and over one in four Hispanic children were poor in 43 states. In many states, the news was even worse for the youngest children: 40 percent or more of Black newborns to kindergartners were poor in 30 states and the nation’s capital, including 15 states where half were poor, and 40 percent or more of Hispanic newborns to kindergartners were poor in 14 states.
Is this the best America can do? Is this the reflection of our values as a nation? These child poverty statistics are morally and economically indefensible. The toxic cocktail of poverty, family joblessness and stress, food insecurity, lost homes, and growing hopelessness are a national human disaster requiring the most urgent response from our political and business leaders in every party and place. Children deserve more than intransigent political grandstanding. They need shoes to protect exposed toes from the cold and food to soothe their growling stomachs. Shame on those who seek to rip out more threads from our rich nation’s tattered safety net while protecting tax cuts for millionaires. Skyler, Zachery, and Jordan McKee and the millions of children like them deserve more from our country.
We can and must do better in the name of God who requires of us only to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Three ways that you can unite with others within and beyond the Pan-Methodist community are:
A: Advocate for children whose voices aren’t being heard in the budget battles. Connect with the advocacy information you need to be a strong a persistent voice for children, including this Pan-Methodist web site and the Children’s Defense Fund web site, www.childrensdefense.org.
B: Be a part of the beloved community that gathers each July at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee for inspirational worship, informational plenaries, and skills-building workshops, and much more so we can more faithfully and effectively serve and advocate on behalf of children. Register now to attend July 16-19, 2012 at www.childrensdefense.org/faith.
C: Celebrate Children’s Sabbath to increase your members’ awareness of the problems facing children, deepen their understanding of God’s call to respond with justice and compassion, and expand the ways that members and the congregation as a whole serve and speak out for children throughout the year. While the National Observance of Children’s Sabbath is the third weekend of each October, the Children’s Sabbath resources available at www.childrensdefense.org/faith can be used at any time.
I believe that working together we can transform the priorities of our nation to put children first and ensure that every child is nurtured and protected. We who follow the one who said “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me” can do no less.
In faith and hope,
Marian Wright Edelman