|Sound the Alarm: A Plan for Martin Luther King's Dream|
In 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died, there were 11 million poor children in America. Today there are over 15.5 million children living in poverty, of these children, almost half— 6.9 million—live in extreme poverty. The tenacious demons that Dr. King warned us against and worked tirelessly to overcome—poverty and racism—still plague our nation and communities. As we end our annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations and America pauses again, to honor the life and dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we must to take a hard look at the work that remains to be done to make Dr. King’s dream a reality.
You may well ask: “Why should we at Pacific care? Segregation and injustice are not blockades of entry into the American society. Why so dramatic? Why now?” You are quite right to call to question why we as a University should care and why we should act now. The shameful truth is that America has taken major steps backwards in two crucial areas that directly impact the lives of Black children: education and incarceration. Thirty-five percent of Black students attend high schools labeled “dropout factories”; and 40 percent of Black children drop out of school before graduation. Moreover, failing schools are just one of the contributing causes to our nation’s disturbing Cradle to Prison Pipeline® crisis, sentencing too many poor and minority children to a trajectory of marginalized lives, imprisonment, and often premature death.
As Dr. King did, we must look injustice in the face, name it, and do everything we can to remedy it. In this spirit, key Black leaders, representing many millions of Black stakeholders, have come together to launch the next phase of the Black Community Crusade for Children to combat the worst crisis faced by millions of Black children since slavery. Honestly, how can six, seven, and eight-year-old children be arrested and handcuffed on school grounds for nonviolent offenses without a huge community outcry?
In this fortitude, the Children’s Defense Fund has launched “The Black Community Crusade for Children,” a campaign that demands the participation of all in order to be successful. In 1990 the first Black Community Crusade for Children launched. From it the Harlem’s Children Zone has pioneered a new way to end the cycle of generational poverty, and Freedom Schools®, have served over 80,000 children and trained 9,000 college-aged mentors.
University of the Pacific, it is time we sound a loud alarm. The alarm must sound about growing criminalization of children at younger and younger ages; it must sound to close the achievement gap; it must sound to build a loud and effective voice for all children, especially the most vulnerable; and it must sound to reweave the fabric of family and community. At an institution where we pride ourselves for being pioneers, all of us, must do far more to tackle the unjust treatment of poor children of color in the juvenile criminal justice system. The failure to act now will reverse the hard-earned racial and social progress for which Dr. King and so many others died and sacrificed.
We are determined to find those solutions for every child—and aware we don’t have a minute, or a child, to lose. Again, in Dr. King’s own words, “It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.” Our renewed crusade for equal opportunity for all children starts now. Won’t you join us?