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.