The Right Start

Pick a problem--infant mortality, poverty, child abuse, teen-age pregnancy, illiteracy, drug abuse, crime, unemployment or homelessness--and it is two times, four times or even six times more likely to touch black children than white children. The odds may be high, but the National Black Child Development Institute refuses to let Americans write off an entire generation.

Invest early and often is the philosophy of the national advocacy group, which recently held its annual convention in Los Angeles. The institute’s 3,000 members promote better child care, stronger preschools, innovative kindergartens and more successful elementary schools. The group also lobbies for greater public and private support, but the challenges are not left solely to government or business.

Individuals--parents, educators, politicians, bankers and everyday people--are asked to get involved in the life of one black child. They are asked to tutor a black youngster, take a black child on a special outing or let a black teen-ager observe them at work. The emphasis is on black children because of the severity of the statistics. Everyone is asked to do something.

“Each One, Reach One,” the institute’s newest national project announced at the recent convention, plans to mobilize thousands of volunteers in Detroit and Greensboro next summer. The volunteers will try get children on a positive track at an early age. Tutors and mentors will work with 1,000 elementary students. Poor children will be given a chance to improve basic skills and self-esteem through group activities. The model program, funded at $777,707 by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, will run for four years--long enough to give the youngsters time to achieve.


The institute’s 33 affiliates also run local programs. To help black children get a strong start, the San Francisco chapter runs parenting programs. To help black children in the public schools, the Los Angeles chapter has developed guidelines for programs for 4 year olds. To help black children who are placed--disproportionately--in special-education classes, the Waterloo affiliate offers independent testing. To help black children whose parents cannot care for them, the New York affiliate tracks foster children. The need is great. There is only one black parent in search of a child to adopt for every eight black children in need of adoption.

Black children, growing up in an unequal society, are twice as likely to die before their first birthdays and four times as likely to grow up in poverty then white children. Black teen-agers are twice as likely to become pregnant, twice as likely to drop out of high school, twice as likely to be unemployed and six times as likely to be killed.

The problems of poor black children, if left unaddressed, will cost the nation dearly some day. The National Black Child Development Institute may not have every answer, but the group is asking everyone to help a single black child.