Reflections on Memphis

This past week for me has been an incredible journey in exploring equity and justice. I just returned from Memphis, where I took part and helped lead the Voices for America’s Children national forum. With so much work to do back home in D.C., the truth is I wasn't ready or willing or even excited about going to Memphis. But once I got there and was able to focus on the challenges before us -- not only as a city, but a as a nation -- I was inspired and energized. The focus of the conference was to motivate and organize Voices national chapters (advocacy organizations in nearly every state and territory) into a unified Children's Movement. I will be taking away meaningful lessons from the sessions and conversations as we start to think of the next phase of advocacy for DC Action.

As we walked through the interactive tour through the Civil Rights Museum -- it culminated in a recreation of the room at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was brutally assassinated as he stood on the balcony -- I was overcome with emotion. We saw news reels of young children marching in protest who were attacked by raging, racist mobs. Civil Rights organizers thought that the children would be safe, that no violence would be directed towards them. But they were wrong. These young children were so brave. They were putting their lives on the line. At that moment, I had the realization that I may not have had the courage to join them if I had lived in those times.

More than a half-century later, we are still grappling with injustice and racism. For me, the biggest take-away is not about what we traditionally think of racism, which is often associated with the color of one's skin,  but rather the issue of equity. Why are the children east of the river NOT accessing their rights to a quality education? Why can't they access quality health services?

I left Memphis with the sense that we have so much more work to do as a nation and as a city in terms of standing up for our children. As tired as I am with the politics involved, I need to stay focused on the end goal -- our mission of ensuring that all children in the District of Columbia, the nation's capital, have the opportunity to reach their full potential and to thrive.

I still have to process my notes from the conference, but here are some questions and points that stood out for me:

  • If we are to truly build a Children's Movement in America, who do we need to enlist? (Click here to hear Leon Russell, vice chairman of the NAACP, speaking on this question.) The Civil Rights movement didn't rely solely on the efforts of poor, Southern blacks. It also included white and black students working in concert, the young and the old, parents and grandparents. For a truly effective children's movement, we need to reach all generations and segments of our community. We all have a stake in an equitable, well-educated and supported society where all children are set up to succeed.

 

  • We need to find a way to effectively link our advocacy to the electoral process -- in a way that conforms to legal guidelines but also is powerful in rallying support for our youngest and most vulnerable citizens. Think AARP for children and  youth. This is particularly complicated by the fact that we don't have a vote in Congress. (Thanks to all those who showed up at the D.C. Voting Rights rally at the White House yesterday.)

 

  • While we work on a range of issues for children and youth, we need to start thinking in terms of campaigns. People become engaged with campaigns -- we feel invested when we take action as individuals and can see collective gains. While we can fight on every front, we need to be organized and focused on a few critical policy wins that will bring the greatest gains for children and shore up our movement. We need to be "intentional" -- that's a word that kept coming up.

 

  • Depending on how you look at it, there has always been a Children's Movement in America -- going back to the fight against child labor. But today we do not so much resemble a movement as a collection of advocate groups fighting in parallel -- each of us in our own state or community, on our dedicated issues. We need to link our efforts across the map and learn from groups on both the left and right that have been effective in using traditional and new media to build a real movement with a strong, collective voice and unified messaging.

 

To do all of the above, we need to do more to engage you, to hear from you and get your input to help shape and drive our agenda. We welcome your thoughts any way you wish to share them. Please comment below or email me at hchung@dckids.org. We look forward to hearing from you!