By MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN
Children’s Defense Fund
“This is a time of testing. We face an attack on democracy and on truth. A raging virus. Growing inequity. The sting of systemic racism. A climate in crisis. America’s role in the world. Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is we face them all at once, presenting this nation with the gravest of responsibilities. Now we must step up. All of us. It is a time for boldness, for there is so much to do. And, this is certain: We will be judged, you and I, for how we resolve the cascading crises of our era. Will we rise to the occasion? Will we master this rare and difficult hour? Will we meet our obligations and pass along a new and better world for our children? I believe we must and I believe we will. And when we do, we will write the next chapter in the American story.”
— President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Inaugural Address, January 20, 2021
This Inauguration Day was full of powerful symbolism for all Americans and especially for our nation’s children. Once again they could see on full display the reality and promise of a multiracial, multicultural society where everyone is welcome. The Pledge of Allegiance was recited simultaneously out loud and in American Sign Language. Girls and boys watched the first Latina Supreme Court Justice swearing in the first woman, first African American, and first Asian American Vice President, and remembered our new Vice President Kamala Harris’s promise that even when she is the first to do something, she won’t be the last.
The Clintons, Bushes, and Obamas modeled gracious, dignified leadership, setting the tone for a recommitment to the rituals of a peaceful transfer of power against the backdrop of a restored Capitol. Universal values most parents teach their children, including humility, compassion, and cooperation, were back in view. And children and adults alike marveled at the beautiful brilliance of 22-year-old Amanda Gorman, our nation’s Youth Poet Laureate and the youngest inaugural poet ever. Some people watching from home described feeling as if a heavy weight were being lifted from their shoulders. Others recognized another feeling: hope.
Now, for the hopeful, the hard work begins again: to help make sure, in words President Biden often quotes from the Irish poet Seamus Heaney,
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
Before he was sworn in President Biden began taking steps to make real his inaugural promise of a better world for children. On January 14 he released a $1.9 trillion COVID relief proposal as a major down payment on ending child poverty. It would significantly expand the Child Tax Credit by making it fully refundable and increasing it for one year, a change that would improve the lives of millions of poor children, especially Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous children, who are currently left out. It also would dramatically fight child poverty by extending Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit increases through the end of the year, providing a one-time direct payment of $1,400 for eligible adults and children, and extending unemployment insurance benefits with an additional $400 each week. Together, these changes could lift five million children out of poverty in 2021. President Biden’s proposal would also include significant funding for child care, resources to help schools reopen safely, and an extension of the eviction moratorium and more help so families can pay their rent and avoid homelessness. This is the kind of leadership our children and families need from their president.
Let’s make sure children and families’ urgent needs are met followed by beginning the larger work of honoring America’s overdue promise of hope and opportunity for every child. The horrific images children saw of our nation’s capital being stormed and defaced by insurrectionists in Nazi, white supremacist, and Trump insignia seeking to violently overthrow our nation’s government must never be repeated. As Amanda Gorman wrote in her wonderful inaugural poem, in the face of “a force that would shatter our nation/rather than share it,” it’s up to us to say:
We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free
And as she concluded:
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
Marian Wright Edelman is Founder and President Emerita 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 http://www.childrensdefense.org.