Bringing the country together for the sake of our children

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 11/22/2016, 10:49 a.m.
“If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether ...
Marian Wright Edelman

Children’s Defense Fund

“If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.” – Carl Gustav Jung

What kind of people do we want to be? What kind of people do we want our children to be? What kind of moral examples, teachings, choices – personal, community, economic, faith, and political – are we parents, grandparents, community adults, political leaders and citizens prepared to make in this new century and millennium to make our children strong inside and empower them to seek and help build a more just, compassionate and less violent society and world?

Over 2,000 years ago, Jesus taught that “Man shall not live by bread alone.” His message is in danger of being lost as so many of our children of privilege and poverty chase material idols that fade and stuff themselves with the cultural junk foods of violence, drugs, greed and material things that fail to fill the deeper hunger for community and purpose all humans share.

The 20th century was characterized by stunning scientific and technological progress. We split the atom, pierced space, walked on the moon, landed on Mars and broke the genetic code. Instant communication led to an information explosion and daily money trading in the trillions. We witnessed astonishing and unjust increases in wealth for a few resulting from a tiny microchip, and we can fly through the air faster than the speed of sound and cruise the seas quicker than the creatures inhabiting them. We created the capacity to feed the world’s population and to prevent the poverty that afflicts millions of humankind. But something is missing. Our scientific and military progress have not been accompanied by comparable moral and spiritual progress.

Every child today is endangered by our violence-saturated culture and excessive consumerism and greed. Buying is equated with happiness. Possessing things is equated with success. Children are marketed sex, alcohol, tobacco and guns as the way to be accepted and hip. And a child or teen dies every three hours and 28 minutes from gunfire and is injured by a gun every 35 minutes in a nation where guns, other than toy guns, are the only unregulated consumer product, although they take 30,000 lives a year – more than 2,500 of which are youth.

I believe the Old Testament prophets, the Gospels, the Koran, other great faiths, history, moral decency and common sense beckon us to examine anew as individuals and as a people what we are to live by and teach our children by precept and example. Adults must lift a strong counter voice to the corrupting messages of our culture and political process and teach our children that they can and must make a difference and be bridges between all people.

I believe each of us is put on this earth for a purpose and with the duty to make our world a better place. My parents and Black community elders taught, by word and deed, that service is the rent each of us pays for living and that the only thing that lasts is what is shared with others. They passed down the habit of service by creating opportunities for children to serve at very young ages. They took us to help the poor with them. They taught us about the duty of citizenship by taking us with them to vote. And they made sure we met great role models including great Black college presidents like Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, Dr. Mordecai Johnson, great singers Richard Hayes, Dorothy Maynor and Marian Anderson. And they taught us about our historic heroes like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass to let us know there was a big world of opportunity beyond our segregated small town Jim Crow southern existence by following their courageous examples. They also taught that service and charity are not enough – that we must also raise our voices for justice and freedom for all. And through their examples, they taught us that if we don’t like the way the world is, we can and must do our part to change it. Success is never guaranteed, but contributing to the struggle is a responsibility and a privilege.