Barriers facing African-American children are a community issue

Michigan has the third-lowest score for the overall well-being of black children, only slightly better than Mississippi and Wisconsin – Annie E. Casey Foundation “Kids Count” report.

Recent findings from the Kids Count report have been hard to accept. The report titled, "Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children," by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, indicates that Michigan has the third-lowest score for the overall well-being of black children, only slightly better than Mississippi and Wisconsin. The report cites that many children of color are growing up in communities where unemployment and crime are higher, schools are poorer, and access to capital, fresh produce, transit and health care is more limited. The study is a wakeup call for us all and should serve as motivation to improve conditions for children and their families in communities throughout the state.

Families must have access to essential resources that give our children a strong start for achieving success in their lives. Research has shown that optimum child development starts with the mother. Having a healthy pregnancy is one of the best ways to promote a healthy birth. That’s why it makes perfect sense to ensure that Michigan’s mothers are given access to quality health care so that all of Michigan’s children are on a path toward success before they can even take their first steps.

The new Kids Count data released last week also showed profound gaps in access to educational outcomes for African American children. Michigan scored low for reading and math proficiency for grade school children and high school graduation rates.

The issue of quality education also has come up in a new poll the W.K. Kellogg Foundation conducted in partnership with Ebony magazine. The “State of the Black Family Survey” revealed that almost one-third of African Americans are concerned that their children are not getting a quality education. We have a great chance of improving these statistics when we increase access to opportunities that promote the brain development of children at an early age.

Our schools can improve the readiness of young children by making connections with local child care providers and preschools. At the same time, educators must be prepared to address the diverse needs of children and our families and as a community we all must be engaged and committed to securing the success of every child. But there must be rapid action to improve conditions, and ultimately, outcomes for children.

Conversely, it is hard for families to engage in their children’s learning if they are worried about paying their bills or attaining employment. In Michigan, nearly one in five black workers is unemployed – that’s more than twice the rate for white workers. Families need access to quality jobs and career programs that invest in their skills-building and training. We know children are more likely to become healthy and productive adults when their families are stable, so when we strengthen parents’ capacity to nurture their children, they are more likely to reach their full potential.

As residents of Michigan, we must devote our efforts to addressing the complex problems facing our communities all across the state. We can work to break the cycle of poverty by removing barriers that limit opportunities for children and families of color.

At WKKF, we have seen impact in action. From grantees Matrix Vista Nuevas in Detroit to the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative in Grand Rapids to Ready for School in Holland/Zeeland, holistic approaches to early childhood programs are getting more kids ready for school. Through our work in community we know that optimal child development means providing children with the stimulus, tools and support necessary for their emotional, intellectual, physical and cultural growth.

While we all may be different in our own way, we all were once a child. Every child deserves an equal opportunity for success in school and life. It’s not a privilege. It’s their right. By focusing on a child’s education and healthy development from birth through age eight and helping families achieve economic security and stability, we will truly be able to help Michigan’s children and families thrive.

La June Montgomery Tabron is the president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

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Fri, 04/11/2014 - 2:08pm
Perfectly expressed! Every business, every employer, every tax payer, every Michigan resident has a stake in the success of every child in our state; and each of us must make an investment in the well-being of ALL children in our state.
Rosalie Novara
Sat, 04/12/2014 - 12:27pm
I can't believe there is a young mother or young father out there who wakes up in the morning and says:" I want my baby to grow up to be stupid and fail in school." So how can they be helped to do the things that lead to success? Going to programs or classes is a strain on young familiies. Can't TV and social media be used to provide short, simple examples of responsive parenting using simple matierials found at home? Organizing a whole community is great, but bottom line is low income folks are often the last to get the word, so let's just start there. In a recent investigation of the impact of studies that showed toddlers' exposure to vocabulary, books and community experiences made measurable differences in subsequent reading abilities, parents were asked if they were influenced by the studies. A large number of affluent parents were aware of the studies and INCREASED relevent activities even more. Some moderate income parents were aware of the studies and felt it validated what they were doing. Almost no low income parents had ever heard of the studies. Rosalie Novara
Sun, 04/13/2014 - 10:36am
Well said. It would be good if educators were prepared to address the diverse needs of children and families, but to do that takes the affirmative engagement of schools, community based organzations, and community members along with the provision of training and skills to all the actors. There are several models for this type of teacher-community engagement that are focused on building relationships of trust and mutuality. These efforts can go a long way toward building the bridge from pre-school to school that La June rightly points to as a critical time in a child's life.
Tue, 04/15/2014 - 11:02pm
It is interesting what La June Montgomery Tabron leaves out of the article. I noticed there was no mention of successes, nothing about kids in that difficult environment who achieved both academic and social success. There is nothing from the students’ perspective, nothing about what was said in the Albion-Marshall articles about, nothing about what the students see as the reasons for success and no mention of the role/responsibilities the student has in their education. There is no mention of fathers in the article. There is no mention of the 80% employed. Quality of education is something that La June Montgomery Tabron sees as important. She mentions how many doubted that their kids are getting such education. I wonder if the Kellogg Foundation defined quality education for the survey or if they left it to how the media portrays it. My concern is La June Montgomery Tabron with her writing is contributing to a perception that the student cannot overcome the barriers to learning and that they are doomed to failure? With all of La June Montgomery Tabron and the Kellogg Foundation’s ‘good intentions’ I wonder if there was any consideration of unintended consequences they could be creating by ignoring the students’ perspective, the student’s role/responsibilities in their education, what is in the students’ control, and the successes that are happening . It seems La June Montgomery Tabron has a picture to paint and only uses a select group of colors, all dark. I would encourage La June Montgomery Tabron consider looking at her education and asking if there were those in class with her that failed and succeeded and if it was all due to financial and social status and ethnicity, or if it has to do with the individual and what they could control. I wonder if she or the Kellogg Foundation ever considered the unintendeded consequences of ignoring the student and creating an image that the barriers are beyond the student's control and thus they are doomed to failure. When you ignore success and focus solely on failure all you will find is failure and all you have to share is failure. Success is the best model for others to succeed.