Staff Writer

A black child today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born into slavery and more than 40 percent of black children are born into poverty.
Such sobering data underscore an effort by some of the country’s most respected child advocates to stop the “backwards slide” that America’s black children are experiencing.

At a Jan. 13 press conference broadcast live online, three revered child advocates, whose work with their respective
organizations is reversing the dire circumstances facing black children and families, launched a national campaign to save all vulnerable but particularly black children. Marian Wright Edelman, Geoffrey Canada and Angela Glover Blackwell have determined that the plight of America’s children of color must be reversed and approached with a sense of urgency.

Calling it the worst crisis for black children since slavery, the trio commissioned a report from Hart Research Associates to quantify what they were “seeing and feeling.” Underscoring the seriousness of the issues, the group said, is a sense of complacency and acceptance that many blacks have regarding the achievements, or lack thereof, of black children.

Edelman and Canada, speaking from Washington, D.C., spelled out the crisis and the proposed solutions.

“We think the black child is sliding backwards. We’ve got to come together as adults of every race, but especially the black community, to do something about it,” said Edelman, who founded the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) more than 35 years ago.

The organization’s newest program, Freedom Schools, is hailed for the results achieved by several of its 115 affiliates located in 29 states and Washington, D.C.

South Florida is home to seven Freedom Schools, an innovative after-school and summer program with a heavy emphasis on reading. The first was started at the Belafonte TACOLCY Center in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood.

The CDF convened a group of black leaders in 1990 to address the plight of black children. The organization that emerged from that gathering, the Black Community Crusade for Children (BCCC), facilitated a poll in 1994 to assemble input from black children and families regarding their status in America. The BCCC commissioned another poll in 2010 to determine where blacks are today.

The results of the new poll were the subject of last week’s  press conference which, Edelman said, was not a “doom and gloom” session but an opportunity to “hear about the conditions of black children and families, to hear the results of the report and to say what we’re going to do about it.”

Canada is the founder and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), a comprehensive birth-to-college initiative that is transforming New York‘s Harlem neighborhood by engaging families in every aspect of their lives. Its focus includes prenatal care, parenting, nutrition and fitness, education, mental health and gainful employment. One of its programs, the Promise Academy High School, saw 93 percent of its ninth-graders pass New York’s rigorous Algebra Regents exam.

Another HCZ program, the TRUCE Fitness and Nutrition Center, which also includes an academic enrichment component, saw “97 percent of its seniors graduate from high school by August 2010; 100 percent of seniors applied to college and all of these students were accepted into at least one school.”

HCZ operates on the premise, “For children to do well, their families have to do well. And for families to do well, their community must do well.”

Canada, chairman of the CDF board, wants to see the achievements of the HCZ replicated throughout the country. He argued that the American economy has been restructured in a way that makes helping black children imperative.

He said the current recession has reduced the availability of low-skilled jobs and pits college graduates against high school graduates in the search for employment. Black children, he said, simply cannot afford to drop out of school or not attend college.

Edelman put it this way: “If you cannot read or compute in this global economy, you are being sentenced to socioeconomic death.”

Of the disproportionate number of black youth heading into the criminal justice system, Edelman said, “We are dismantling the cradle-to-prison pipeline and replacing it with the pipeline to college and to successful adulthood.”

Blackwell is the founder of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity by “Lifting Up What Works” programs such as the CDF and HCZ.

“The fact is our treatment and neglect of children is unacceptable and it’s going to be the moral and economic Achilles heel that will bring this country down if we don’t address it,” Edelman said

Renee Michelle Harris may be contacted at