On this day last year, my son and I watched events unfold just two miles from our new home in Washington, D.C. Dallas—my artist, the empath among my four children who feels deeply all that he sees around him—was unnerved in the place where I was moving my family. He watched, with children across the nation, as the hopes for his well-being were attacked at the Capitol.
Democracy and child well-being are intimately intertwined. Both depend on the policy and power wielded in that building-turned-battleground. January 6, 2021 was a public flashpoint of evolving social and political conditions militating against the well-being of Black and brown children, like mine.
Children’s Defense Fund’s team in Texas is fighting the elimination of civics education which suppresses civic engagement among Black and brown young adults at ground zero for teaching accurate history. For years, our advocates and organizers from New York to Mississippi have encountered the erosion of institutions traditionally teaching citizenship—public schools, mainline religious bodies, and independent media with high journalistic standards. All the while, the vocal minority mobilized one year ago has been inhibiting the advancement of legislation to improve the lives of children and families through intimidation and violence.
This is the America in which our children are growing up. Like Dallas, they are processing the dissonance of dialogue about a nation that has never lived out the full meaning of its creed with images of insurrection and a lack of accountability. What’s worse, as these actions go unchecked, voting laws are being changed in states across the union to amplify the efforts of this loud, misled minority.
The white supremacists who came to Washington, D.C., equipped with the big lie to “reclaim America” and “protect democracy” drown out the voices of children of color quoting Langston Hughes’ poem entitled ‘Let America Be America Again.’ They are crying, “America never was America, to me.”
The events at the Capitol and the year of political theatre without sustainable policy action make it clear that our call is not restoring democracy. It is Raising Democracy. Both raising children and changing the conditions for them to thrive are generational commitments. We need child tax credit expansion, voting rights legislation, and criminal justice reform to get through the Senate to our families. The current delay and conditions in our communities demonstrate that child well-being, racial justice, and democracy are codependent. As my friend, Joe Goldman, president of the Democracy Fund once said, “If you care about justice, fight for democracy.”
U.S. Senators have an opportunity to create conditions for children to live in a thriving democracy by advancing voting rights for all Americans. Encourage your senators to support the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. These bills would roll back efforts to suppress the voices of America’s rising majority and move us toward an inclusive, participatory democracy. This young generation is the first with the potential to live into a truly multicultural democracy.
America never was America to many of us. But for Dallas, and 74 million young people across the nation, it still can be.
For our children,
Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson
President and CEO