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.
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 start a serious discussion 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.