Feb 12, 2009

Cradle to Prison Pipeline Campaign Comes to New York

posted by Chris Watler,
Project Director for the Harlem Community Justice Center

It was an unusually warm winter day in Brooklyn on the campus of Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York.  In her first visit to the Medgar Evers campus, Marian Wright Edelman, Founder of the Children's Defense Fund, brought her national and community crusade to end the Cradle to Prison Pipeline to New York City.  The venue was fitting.  Since 1970, Medgar Evers College has been a beacon of hope for successive waves of persons of African descent from across the diaspora, including many poor single women of color with children.

Ms. Edelman called on attendees to recognize the "twin pillars of poverty and racial discrimination" that have created the pipeline.  She challenged the audience to organize and collaborate in recognition of the fact that "children don't come in pieces."  According to the Children's Defense Fund in New York City:
  • 1 in 5 (20%) of all children are poor;
  • 3 in 10 (20%) of all African-American children are poor;
  • 1 in 3 (33%) of all Latino children are poor; and
  • in 2006, 73% of youth in residential placement in New York are African-American or Latino.
Eric Cadora of the Justice Mapping Center used maps to show the audience what the Cradle to Prison Pipeline looks like.  Mr. Cadora stressed the importance of viewing the challenges through a neighborhood lens as he pinpointed areas of Central Brooklyn with high rates of poverty, high rates of juvenile custody, and low rates of school attainment.   Mapping the problem supports efforts to target limited resources toward those places and persons with the most need.

John Cartegna of the Community Service Society focused on joblessness and the growing population of older vulnerable youth in New York City -- youth between 18 - 25 who are not working, not in school, and generally not engaged in pro-social life activities.

Other speakers, including Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children's Zone and Damon Todd Hewitt of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund stressed the growing culture of removal and exclusion that permeates schools.  Mr. Hewitt indicated that African Americans are 17% of the nation's public school student population, but they account for 34% of all school suspensions.

Despite the sobering statistics, the bulk of the day was devoted to solutions in the areas of health, education, and juvenile justice reform.  Ms. Edelman showed a video of the Children's Defense Fund Freedom School initiative.  Several legislative efforts highlighted included the New York City Study Safety Act, sponsored by New York City Councilmember Robert Jackson, and the Children's Defense Fund Health Coverage for All Children Campaign.  

Ms. Edelman called for "vision, courage, discipline, and hard work" and a focus on programs that work.  While there is a greater sense of hope that the new administration in Washington will be better for the nation's children, Ms. Edelman was clear: "There are no friends in politics, you must demand what you want."