“If I could sit down for freedom, you can stand up for children.”
– Mrs. Rosa Parks, honorary co-chair, 1996 Stand for Children rally
June 1st, 2021 marks a very special anniversary for the Children’s Defense Fund and our nation’s children. On that day 25 years ago over 3,000 co-sponsoring organizations stood together in the largest rally for children in our nation’s history. Over 200,000 parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, faith and civil rights leaders, child advocates, and other people from every race, age, faith, and walk of life gathered at the Lincoln Memorial. And tens of thousands stood for children across our country and pledged to do their part putting children first in their families, communities, the private sector, and national life and in building a just America that leaves no child behind and ensures all children a healthy and safe passage to adulthood.
That joyful June day reflected a passionate commitment by participants at the Lincoln Memorial and those who tuned in all around the country. Leaders from every major faith offered prayers. Many faith denominations held prayer breakfasts and gatherings before we stood together. A prayer tent was set up for Muslims to pray at appropriate times during the day. Many thousands of children, including many babies in strollers, came with their families. One fifth grader said: “Pretty soon we’re going to run this world. If we are going to make it better, they need to treat us better.”
Rosa Parks and Rosie O’Donnell co-chaired the follow-up local Stand for Healthy Children Day in 1997 which sparked over 700 events across the country demanding health coverage for all children. Thirty thousand people gathered in New York City’s Central Park. The 1996 and 1997 rallies fueled the grassroots push that led to the bipartisan passage of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), championed by Senators Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, which President Bill Clinton signed into law August 1997. The following year Stand for Children Day featured events in all 50 states focused on quality affordable child care for preschool and school-age children. Those first Stand for Children days were the beginning of a movement.
Today Stand for Children is an organization working across nine states whose mission is to ensure all students a high-quality, relevant education, especially those whose boundless potential is overlooked and under-tapped because of their skin color, zip code, first language, or disability. I could not be prouder of my son Jonah Edelman, Stand for Children’s co-founder and CEO. As Jonah says: “For all 25 years Stand for Children has been about leveling the playing field, about justice. How can we make the most possible impact for the children who need help the most? How can we increase opportunity for children who are furthest from it? That’s Stand’s role.”
Stand for Children has a list of more than 200 state and local legislative and policy victories that demonstrate the power of grassroots efforts to improve the lives of students, families, and educators. They have leveraged over $6.7 billion in education investments and note the policies and investments Stand for Children has secured are improving the lives of more than 5.6 million children. This February the organization launched its latest national program, the Center for Antiracist Education (CARE), to work with educators across the nation to identify antiracist curriculum, build antiracist expertise, and demonstrate what works in the collective effort to make schools places of healing, not harm. Twenty-five years after the first rally, we are at a moment of enormous potential for all we still need to do to ensure our nation provides justice and opportunity for all children. As Jonah also puts it: “Stand for Children’s 25th anniversary comes at a time of unique possibility to make progress toward racial and social justice. For the rest of our lives, we may never have a better chance to reduce child poverty, increase economic mobility, root out individual and systemic racism, and close our nation’s racial wealth chasm.” Let’s honor this anniversary by seizing this moment and recommitting ourselves, our communities, and our nation to the enduring call to stand for children.