At the Children’s Alliance we strive to protect children from the lethal effects of racism and inequality through advocacy: by working to change laws and policies so they create a better environment for all children.
As the close of the legislative session made clear, advocacy can work wonders. Yet it can’t intervene in a potentially fatal interaction between two individuals. When one of those interactions comes to pass, as it did for 17-year-old Trayvon Martin Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., there is good reason for outrage.
And, amid our outrage, there are reasons to act.
Trayvon’s death is a call to action for people of all races. It’s a call, first of all, to recognize the potential for pervasive racial bias to powerfully affect a child’s experience at school. According to a recent study, “zero-tolerance” approaches by school administrators mean that blacks and Latinos account for 7 in 10 of the students suspended in our nation’s schools.
It’s not right that children must endure the misjudgments and malice of adults and peers. Trayvon’s death is a call to honor and support the adults among us who teach children how to stay safe when confronted with racial bias.
Where bias exists, it must be rendered less lethal. Advocacy can do that. We need to guard our state against gun laws that encourage reckless behavior by self-appointed guardians of public safety.
And, we have to continue to reorient state and federal priorities so that we invest public dollars nurturing instead of criminalizing our youth. We need to challenge and dismantle the roadblocks that children of color face to healthy, happy adulthoods.
There is much more that advocacy can do to make racism less lethal for kids. Because of our work in Olympia over the past few months, the state is about to step up its efforts to connect 100,000 uninsured children with health coverage, a prerequisite for affordable, preventive health care that too many children of color go without. And, in order to close the K-12 opportunity gap, all infants and toddlers need quality early learning opportunities – a truth state officials are beginning to recognize. In coming months we’ll continue to build the case for a universal, voluntary early learning system that addresses racial inequality in education at the start, not the ending, of a school career.
In these and other ways, by seeking to undo the damage of racism, we'll work in honor of Trayvon Martin as we grieve over his death.