Romanita Hairston, World Vision’s vice president for U.S. programs, recently had the opportunity to attend the presidential inauguration on January 21, 2013. Today, she reflects on our nation’s future and challenges us to help children in need in the United States.
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Washington, D.C., overflowed with energy and activity during the weekend of the second inauguration of President Barack Obama — as reflected by the 45 minutes it took to travel one mile in some places. I am sure many came wondering how this inauguration would compare to the historic event just four years prior.
This time, the inauguration held a slightly different historical significance. For the second time in U.S. history, a presidential inauguration fell on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. This one also took place 150 years after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, and nearly 50 years after the March on Washington, whose iconic moment took place at the far end of the National Mall with Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
The opening words of President Obama’s address were full of that history. Having just seen the movie “Lincoln” and just finished my annual reading of Dr. King’s speech, it was impossible to miss the enduring nature of the ideas within the president’s words:
“What makes us exceptional — what makes us American — is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’
“Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth.”
These addresses, given every four years, are opportunities for a president to articulate a vision for the country that will resonate now and possibly make history through the ages.
As I looked at the faces of the children I saw sprinkled among the crowds and considered the children we serve through World Vision’s U.S. Programs, I wondered whether they knew those words also belonged and applied to them.
Those words don’t represent a set of liberties that are applied magically only at the age of 18. But children here in the United States wake up each day trapped in situations and environments that hinder and preclude these “unalienable rights.” They are served and led by systems and people that often lead them to death, oppression, and the pursuit of sorrow.
When we accept dropout factories for schools, unchecked violence and abuse in places that should be safe, economically deprived communities, and gang occupation of neighborhoods, we deny children the freedom to thrive and grow.
Abraham Lincoln said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”
The real facts are that our country is ranked almost last in child well-being when compared to other developed nations. The issue of our children’s futures and rights can’t be at the top floor of political conversation and in the basement of our actions. I, too, am a firm believer in “the people.”
If we want that to change, we will have to take heed to these words of Dr. King, who said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.” We must see our own freedom as closely tied to the freedom we provide to children today to grow up safe, healthy, and hopeful.
We acknowledge the truth of Dr. King’s words that “an individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” One of our broadest and deepest concerns is the future we guarantee for our children. That is the work of today, not tomorrow.
Hear these words of Theodore Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I urge you to get involved by supporting effective programs and being in relationship with children in need. Join us.
Romanita Hairston is World Vision’s vice president for U.S. Programs. World Vision works with local partners to serve American children, families, and communities in need, and to respond to emergencies across the United States.
Learn more about our work in the United States at www.worldvision.com/usprograms.