On June 1, 1996, U.S. history’s largest demonstration for children was in Washington, D.C. More than 300,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial for the first-ever Stand for Children Day. The words of a song by Sweet Honey in the Rock flashed through my head:
Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won.
Many stones to build an arch, singly none, singly none.
Any by union what we will, can be accomplished even still.
Drops of water turn a wheel, singly none, singly none.
As I rounded the corner from the elevator to the top steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I encountered a sea of color: Hundreds of thousands of people were gathered – from every nationality, state, race, religion, age, sexual and political persuasion, and social class.
It stretched from the very steps where I stood with my two sons, Alexander, six years old, and his brother, Ramon, four years old, to the Jefferson Memorial on the horizon. It wasn’t until this moment, standing with my sons at Lincoln’s feet, looking out onto rather than on the ground level looking into the multitudes of people who had traveled from as far as California, that I truly understood why we were all here.
Ramon woke suddenly from napping in the stroller (the reason we’d taken the elevator and not the steps) and said with the exclamation, “MAMA! look at all these people.” I replied, “And you know why they are all here? Because every one of them cares about children.”
He then asked, “All of them?” And an African-American grandmother who has custody of her six grandchildren smiled and replied, “Yes, baby, all of us here.”
Silently taking in this visual, powerful promise of hope, I made a mental note that I would never have to feel alone in this struggle.
We heard Marian Wright Edelman tell us that each person can and must help–and not hinder–our children growing up safe, healthy, educated, productive, and moral. Each citizen must ask whether our personal, community, business, and public actions make it easier or harder for children to grow safely and well.
But the challenge Edelman put before us was “the most important way citizens can stand for children is to struggle (and it is a challenging task) to live in-deed what we teach in words. We must also work together to weave a web of family, community and government support at all levels that leaves no child behind. So that no one person raises a child alone.”
June 1, 1996, was a seed in my garden of hope. And an inspiration for all of us who rode through the night on the eight buses from Detroit to the National Stand (thanks to generous support from UAW Locals 22 and 600) and worked to organize, publicize, and raise funds for scholarships that enabled mothers and children homeless teenagers to attend. And for those who talked to youth groups, elder groups, religious and civic groups, and who held rallies, meetings, and walkathons in conjunction with the Stand for Children (more than 250 across the country on June 1) – we have begun to build a “Community of Hope.”
Love and concern for children, hard work, and unity of purpose made June 1 an inspirational and historic day and will make our movement to “leave no child behind” a success. In Detroit, we are already moving forward. Some are focused on volunteering, others on lobbying or writing letters; some who have never been involved in a child-related cause before will now “walk our talk.”
Across the country, there are many examples of groups coming back from the National Stand and getting to work. In Detroit, many of us who attended the National Stand continue to meet at the First Unitarian Universalist Church to plan future actions. On September 5, Erma Henderson, a lifelong political activist and community leader organized a coalition to support her annual Conference of Concerns at Cobo Hall, focusing on our tasks of Standing for Children. And on October 5, 3500 of us stood on the State Capitol steps in Lansing, renewing our commitment to the work of standing for children every day.
This campaign has instigated a new level of consciousness on the plight of our children and our determination for change. We will change this country person by person, group by group, community by community, state by state until no child is left behind.
To quote Marian Wright Edelman, “If each one of us, every day, lights our small candle, it just might be the one that sparks the movement to save our children.”
(For more information, contact Stand for Children, 1832 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington D.C.; fax (202)234-0217, email TellStand@aol.com, or call 1-800-663-4032.)