Editor’s Note: Recently, the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) released a report on Black children in America titled, “Being Black Is Not A Risk Factor: A Strengths-based Look At The State of The Black Child.”
Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with Black children and their families, the report examines how our children, their families and communities use their respective-yet little known and ignored by the mainstream-strengths to improve outcomes for Black children. Saying her organization understands the crisises Black children face and are “broken hearted” by the high poverty rates, low test scores and dismal health outcomes, Dr. Felicia Dehaney, president and CEO of the NBCDI, said the report chooses to celebrate the “considerable strengths, assets and resiliance demonstrated by our children, families and communities. “We celebrate and cherish our children. They are not risks, but rewards,” Dehaney continued. “We believe that the true state of the Black child lies in their natural curiosity, excitement and genius, and we believe that they will indeed walk forward in the light.” From time to time, your Milwaukee Community Journal will publish excerpts from the 68 page NBCDI report which outlines the strengths of our children, families and community, and how those strengths can be used to improve the outcomes for Black children. This week, we are reprinting excerpts from the report’s foreword written by Barbara T. Bowman, the Irving B. Harris Professor of Child Development at the Erikson Institute titled: “The State of The Black Child.” It is no secret that life is more challenging for African American children than for other American children. The continuing legacy of segregation and discrimination feeds poverty—of the body and the spirit—and casts a shadow over their lives. Many are mired in a level of poverty that carries significant physical and mental dangers. They are likely to live in segregated and poorly resourced communities, with poor schools, poor housing, poor employment opportunities and a hostile outside world. And even families who escape the stifling effects of poverty are handicapped by the inequalities they experience daily. Evidence of racial disparities can be found everywhere—in housing, insurance, business, and funding for schools, as well as in racial profiling, job discrimination and more severe sentencing by courts. One should not wonder at the number of families that succumb to these hazards, but at the number who live their lives with dignity and hope. The child rearing practices of African American families are different, in some instances quite different, from those of other Americans. Comparisons of White and Black child rearing usually results in finding fault with African American families’ ways of raising children. Yet, except for those families struggling under the most extreme social pressure, Black families provide their children with the developmental supports necessary for healthy development. The vast majority of African American children are supported by their families; they walk, talk, love, make categories, represent ideas, use symbols, etc., even though they may do these things in different ways than White children. Difficulties arise because African Americans do not have access to the skills and knowledge considered necessary for success embedded in White institutional arrangements. Further, the social and economic constraints of living Black in America may make some aspects of White child rearing a hazard for Black children. The challenge for African American families is to prepare children for current realities without limiting their ability to succeed in the larger community. That is what this book is about. While it inventories the challenges facing African American children and families and the failure of various systems to address their needs, it also tells the story of resiliency in the face of despair. It is about the risks and the successes of Black families who love and protect their children to the best of their ability. It is also about what African Americans and the larger society can do to ensure a better tomorrow. What is provided here is a handbook for families and community helpers such as teachers, librarians, coaches and policemen, giving them the information they need to recognize the strength of the community and to design services that build on those strengths. A rich body of issues and options are offered. Should we concentrate on only the poorest children? How should we balance academic content and children’s interests? Should we focus equally on all the years between birth and age 8 (infancy to 3rd grade) or only on preschool/primary years? Should we aim toward excellence (even if only for a few) or be satisfied with incremental gains across a wider audience? Should we look for gender differences and design education with that in mind? How important is the history of our community in leveraging change? Ideally, this book will be used to jump st art a serious discuss ion about the strengths of African American children and families, and the ways in which they can best be supported as they reach for the American dream.