A better tomorrow for today's children

Editor's note: One of our senior vice presidents recently said that he believes the first thing Romanita thinks and prays about when she wakes up in the morning is the well-being of children in the United States. That thought couldn't be more appropriate for our first February post — a personal reflection from Romanita Hairston, World Vision's vice president for U.S. programs, on Black History Month and its relation to our work alongside children and communities right here in the United States.

This time of year always prompts me to reflect on our work with youth and community development. I'm reminded of two lines from the famous "I Have a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., back in 1963:

“I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”

Every year, I read or listen to that speech; and each time, those words come alive in my heart. At some point in my life, they became my words, as though Dr. King had read my mind. I realize I am in the company of generations of leaders who looked to a day when EVERY child had the chance to live the dream.

This connection to Dr. King's words goes beyond the facts — beyond the tangible evidence. It’s the experience of simply knowing that what he said is deeply true. Black History Month reminds me that this country rallied together in that knowledge — and we can do so again. I was too young to experience the movement that Dr. King shaped and energized, but I feel it in my soul. I long for a renewed movement on behalf of children in this country. I believe that there is an awakening underway to the realities of child well-being in this country.

Delegates and leaders from the 2009 Youth Empowerment Project. (Laura Reinhardt/WV)

If Americans were asked to name the world's most economically and militarily powerful nation, most would say the United States without hesitation. And if asked which country did the best job of ensuring child well-being, many would give the same answer. After all, why would anyone want to live anywhere else? People risk life and limb to find the dream that is America.

But for children in the United States — particularly children of color — this is not the reality.

There’s been enough news about our failing education system, increasing youth violence, and the deterioration of the family unit. But there are even more startling facts. In a report by UNICEF, the United States was ranked 20th out of 21 countries for child well-being. The groundbreaking report — which explores factors of material well-being, health and safety, education, family and peer relationships, behaviors and risks, and subjective well-being — exposes some stark realities for American children. It confirms that we are losing gains we’ve made around child well-being — and the outlook is not good.

In the midst of these facts, I've witnessed many who are facing a crisis of conscience. I'm repeatedly amazed at the shock I see on the faces of adults when they're shown the circumstances of some children in their own community. I believe we are not fully awake to their realities, and we need a movement that mobilizes us on their behalf.

That's when I'm reminded of the importance of the work we do. As World Vision serves across the United States alongside young people, we see time and time again that these youth aren’t just the object of our solutions. In fact, they are the designers of those solutions — for themselves and their community. When we empower young people to effect positive change — the way that Dr. King did for those who believed in his vision — we are building a better future for everyone.

The challenges we face are not minor, but they can be overcome. And today, I still have a dream, despite the frustration and the challenges. My hope is that we will join together in that dream on behalf of children and youth.

Learn more about World Vision U.S. Programs and our work with youth, families, and communities here in the United States. Watch the video below — a letter from the mother of a student participating in World Vision's Youth Empowerment Project.

How would you respond to Romanita's thoughts about the state of child well-being in this country? What steps can we take to make America a better place for children to grow up — and how can we equip our young people to help create this change?

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