“We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity."
I could not help but think about these words this past weekend from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., spoken 50 years ago on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. At the very moment his oratory transitioned from previously recorded remarks to the unapologetic spilling of his soul, King realized that the equitable environment he fought to create that day would set a precedent for his offspring today.
Deep within the context of King's remarks was the desire to strategically halt the transfer of oppression from one generation to another. It is a common cliché in the community development space that if we build for our children we inevitably build for the community. But the devastating truth is that 50 years after Martin Luther King's call for the protection of our children, the number one victim in communities all over this country is unfortunately our children.
Despite the fact that twice as many low income children walk to school than affluent children, streets in underserved communities often lack the basic infrastructure to keep kids safe while walking or bicycling. What’s more, there are 850,000 children living in gang violence “hot zones" all over the country, putting kids at risk on their way to school before they even get to the classroom.
Across the country, schools that could have been utilized as cornerstones of the community are being shut down. School closures are affecting 26 schools in New York, 23 in Philadelphia, 54 in Chicago and 15 in Washington, DC. More than 80% of those schools are in low income communities.
The 1.6 million homeless children living in the US each year have high rates of obesity due to nutritional deficiencies.
In 2008 and 2009, 5,740 children and teens were killed by guns --enough to fill more than 229 public school classrooms of 25 students each.
These statistics are real-- and the resources to combat many of these issues are real too. Recognizing and responding to King's "fierce urgency of now" call requires knowledge of what tools are at our disposal to take action today. As we look to eradicate the ills facing our children, we must challenge ourselves to broaden our perspective, build new bridges, and innovate our strategies.
The Safe Routes to School National Partnership, a network of more than 650 advocacy organizations, is determined to advance safe and equitable walking and bicycling to and from schools, and in daily life, to improve the health and well-being of America’s children and to foster the creation of livable, sustainable communities.
Recently, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership joined the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association in their Voices for Healthy Kids initiative specifically focusing on Active Places. Understanding the immense value in community being directly involved in how their community is built, we are engaging, organizing, and mobilizing people to advance policies that support healthy community design, shared use and street-scale policies in underserved communities and schools.
Over the next few months we offer the opportunity to partner with us as we take some major steps towards re-establishing our children's self-hood and dignity:
• Introducing the National Active Transportation Diversity Task Force and the National Shared Use Task Force, both of which will be collectives made up of organizations that represent underserved communities that see the linkage between their work and creating Active Places.
• Launching our official campaign search for efforts and initiatives around the country on shared use agreements, communal safety, safe routes to school and complete streets.
• Hosting a free webinar on September 26 to share information about how we can support your winning campaigns at the state and local level that will increase shared use agreements and street scale improvements.
• Providing community coalitions, organizations and everyday citizens with support, resources, and technical assistance to help existing coalitions achieve policy successes.
Right before King’s rally cry that he had a Dream, he stressed to the crowd that "we cannot walk alone." King made it clear that a collaborative effort of people from all causes could change our communities for the better. The Safe Routes to School National Partnership has made it clear that we will no longer let our children walk alone.
Join us in that fight.
Keith Benjamin is the Street Scale Campaign Manager for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership