Rev. Gerald Britt serves as Vice President of Public Policy and Community Program Development here at Central Dallas Ministries.
On Saturday, March 3, 2007, Gerald spoke to the Connections 2007 Child and Adolescent Advocacy Conference, an annual event in Dallas sponsored by the Women's Council of Dallas County and Children's Medical Center.
Gerald entitled his speech, "Nourishing Our Children."
I think you will benefit from reading it.
NOURISHING OUR CHILDREN
There once was a sociology professor who, when taking his afternoon constitutional, came upon a young mother spanking her child in the front yard. He stopped at once and patiently, but firmly, confronted the young woman. "You must not spank your child," he said, "you will traumatize him. You must love them."
That weekend, the professor was working on his driveway, spreading new cement. Suddenly, this young woman’s son and some of his friends ran through his yards and ran right through the fresh cement. The professor angrily ran after them, shouting and threatening to give them a good spanking. The young woman saw this happen and said, "Professor, I thought we were to love our children not spank them." To which the professor replied, "I love children in the abstract, but not in the concrete!"
This is why we are here today. We represent, care for and work with families and communities, whose interests are in the plight of our children, children whose futures must be considered uncertain at best and bleak at the very worst. According to the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, 17.8% of children under the age of 18, live in poverty across the U.S. In Texas, 23.2% of those of the same age range are living in households that qualify as poor. That means that 23% of our children are in families struggling to make it on $20,000 a year in a family of four, according to 2006 Federal Poverty Guidelines. Precious little could be more shameful.
Our challenge is to change the nature of conversation regarding children, from abstract political rhetoric, to aggressive, creative, substantive public policy proposals and recommendations that will lead to the reforms that will result in better health care, education and job opportunities for parents now and for children if they or we, for that matter, are to have a real future. These are our children, and we can no longer afford to love them in the abstract. Our children are the embodiment of our hopes and dreams. They are the beneficiaries of our legacies and the heritage of our families and communities. We want these children to have lives that are healthy, happy and whole.
Truly nurturing children means that we provide them with the hope that comes through being educated. When I say educated, I mean really educated. We are not educating children by teaching them to be proficient test takers. We are not educating children when we don’t expose them to art and music at a young age. We are not educating them when we don’t teach them to appreciate, learn from and apply the lessons to be learned in great literature and history. And we can never teach them if we do not believe they can learn, and learn at high levels.
Children living in low-income neighborhoods experience unequal access to quality education compared to children who live in higher income neighborhoods. In Texas where property taxes help fund public school districts, children who attend public school in low-income communities have fewer dollars per student spent on them than public schools in higher income communities. Disparities in school funding lead to inequalities of available resources across school districts, including up to date text books; science-lab equipment, computer, music, and sports equipment; field trips and other extracurricular activities, taken for granted in wealthier communities.
We cannot nurture children if they are not healthy. Our children swing between obesity and food insecurity. In our most distressed neighborhoods, choice, affordability and transportation are issues, even when it comes to food. Grocery stores that sell wholesome, nutritional food at affordable prices are in scarce supply, while cheap fast food choices are stacked upon one another leaving encouraging diets that consist of fried fish, fried chicken, barbecue and hamburgers, along with assorted chips and soft drinks.
We cannot nourish our children, if we don’t nourish them physically. Implementing a ‘testocracy’ in our schools has taken away things like gym class and recess. The absence of safe parks and the presence of crime, the overpopulation of stray animals, and poorly equipped recreation centers, leave our children few options when it comes to creatively occupying themselves.
We cannot nourish our children if we do not tend to their overall health. Regular immunizations, doctor check ups, dental hygiene are all problems for the poor. Without health insurance, CHIP or MEDICAID, the most routine health care problems are brought to the primary care physician of last resort: the emergency room doctor.
But most importantly, we cannot nourish children, unless we provide opportunity for their parents. While Leave No Child Behind is being acknowledged as a relatively effective strategy for successful public education, we are forgetting that if we leave parents behind, we place every child at risk of being left behind.
While poverty itself may not cause negative outcomes in children, it often co-occurs with many stressors that may be harmful: stressors such as single parenthood, four or more children in that child’s household, and the lack of a high school diploma or GED by the child’s parent. One study found that only 22% of poor children experienced poverty with no other risk factors (the aforementioned ‘stressors’). About half experienced poverty plus one other risk factor; almost a quarter experienced poverty plus two other risk factors; and 5% experienced all the risk factors. Negative outcomes associated with poverty, plus two or more of these risk factors, include behavioral and emotional problems and problems in school. Among children ages 6-11, 18% of those who were considered at high risk (exhibiting three or more risk factors) also exhibited a high level of behavioral problems (compared to 6% of other children), and 32% exhibited low school engagement (compared to 14% of other children).
We cannot even think of eliminating poverty among children, apart from what we do for the adults in the households in which they live.
Consider these facts:
·One third of Texas families are classified as low income and 41% of Texas workers work at jobs that pay a median hourly wage of $10 or less.
·The Lone Star State ranks close to the bottom in providing essential support services such as affordable health care and adult education.
·Texas has the most restrictive limit on unemployment insurance in the nation
·Texas is nearly last in providing adult education
·Texas has the highest number of adults without a high school diploma or a GED
·Texas ranks 45th in the number of unemployed adults in the Workforce Investment Act
·Our state has over 53% of low income families with at least one adult without health insurance.
There is no such thing as rich children growing up in a home of poor adults. Adult poverty impedes the cognitive development of children and their ability to learn. It contributes to behavioral, social and emotional problems. It can lead to poor health as well. Research tells us that the risks posed by poverty are greatest among children who experience poverty when they are young and among children who experience persistent deep poverty.
And so, our challenge is to nurture our children by beginning a "pro-quality-of-life" movement.
This is a movement which seeks to make textbooks more available to our children than guns; this is a movement that seeks to make well-balanced meals more the norm for our children than drugs and alcohol; this is a movement that wants to make early childhood development programs and after-school enrichment more accessible than opportunities for mischief and crime. This is the movement that wants to improve and build more public schools, colleges and universities, than prisons. This is a movement that wants jobs that pay a living wage, so that parents can model dignity and self-worth as they provide for their children.
This "pro-quality-of-life" movement spans the length and breadth of our cities and communities. And it must be based on the understanding that if all children don’t have a future, none of us has a future.
In one of my favorite Peanuts cartoons, Lucy demands that Linus change TV channels and then threatens him with her fist if he doesn’t. "What makes you think you can walk right over her and take over?" asks Linus.
"These five fingers," says Lucy. "Individually, they’re nothing, but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold."
"Which channel do you want?" asks Linus.
Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, "Why can’t you guys get organized like that?"
The only way that we are going to change the political channel to which Texas is tuned, is for us to organize. Politicians and public officials must see advocates for Texas children that look like Texas. Texas is Black, white and brown. Texas is affluent, middle class and poor. Texas is North Dallas, Plano and South Dallas. It is Houston’s Fifth Ward, the East Side of San Antonio and the Colonias. If legislation is not passed that it is good for all of us, then it is not good for any of us.
The voice of the "pro-quality-of-life" movement must be heard. It must be heard if ours is to be a true democracy. It must be heard if people in distressed and blighted communities are to have hope. It must be heard if our children are truly to be educated. It must be heard if third world islands are not to be permitted in the midst of the great waters of our large urban centers.
This voice must be heard if "justice is to run like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
This voice must be heard if our children are to be nurtured and their very lives are to be rescued from marginalization and the annihilation of poverty and despair.
 Center for Public Policy Priorities, “Texas Poverty 101” Policy Brief, February 2006
 p. 7 The Status of Women and Girls in Dallas County: A Review of the Academic Literature,
Prepared by: Elizabeth Fawcett, Frances Means, Rodney A. McDanel, and Susan Eve August 2002
School of Community Service, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas
 Center for Public Policy Priorities, Austin, Texas – News Release, “Many Texas Families Work Hard But Struggle to Make Ends Meet”
 National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health. “Who are America’s Poor Children?: Why child poverty matters