First Focus on Our Nation’s Most Precious Resource

Summer 2011

This summer of 2011 has been a most interesting one in our country, specifically in this bubble of the U.S. where people come to make their voices heard. While my parents are shucking corn in their backyard, sweating it out in the summer heat, we in D.C. are suffering from a different kind of heat – the battle of the national budget and the debt ceiling. Our country owes a lot of money and it’s our nation’s children who are likely going to foot the bill.

Enter the First Focus Children’s Budget Summit. First Focus is a bipartisan advocacy organization partnered with America’s Promise Alliance and their focus is specifically that of issues that affect children and their families.  Every year First Focus holds the First Focus Children’s Budget Summit, bringing together politicians, community leaders, researchers, media officials, and this year even a neuroscientist. The focus of this summit is to actually assess how the federal budget will positively or negatively affect children and offer solutions to the problem. 

I was moved by the passion of those who spoke and impressed that such thoughts were coming from some of our nation’s most powerful players.  The summit started off with President Obama’s Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Melody Barnes.  She pushed that making putting children first is a priority for this administration and it should be for all Americans.  She told us that this was not only important in helping those little citizens who are most vulnerable but also for us, because “for every dollar put into 0-5 education, [as a nation] we get $10 back.”  This bit of information was made even more impactful when Representative Danny Davis told us that children make up a quarter of the American population.  Prospects look grim, though, when Senator Bob Menendez told us that the proposed cuts to the budget would make spending on children in 2020 less than it was in 2005.

Politicians aren’t the only ones who spoke up for the children.  We were fortunate to hear from local activists, professors, and media professionals.  David Lawrence, of The Children’s Movement of Florida, let us know that more than half of 10th graders can’t read and three-quarters of youth can’t enter the military due to drugs, academics, healthcare, and crime.  Julie Rovner, Health Policy Correspondent at NPR and Jamal Simmons, Principal at The Raben Group let us know that the media makes this problem out to be a minority issue letting policy makers off the hook, when in reality the largest subset of people in poverty are 11 million white children.  And finally, David Kirp author of Kids’ First: Five Big Ideas for Transforming Children’s Lives and America’s Future, laid out what the Five Big Ideas are and they were almost identical to America’s Promise Alliance’s Five Promises.  Of those five ideas he said that we need strong support for parents, high quality education for children, community supports for schools – all things America’s Promise are currently working toward.

But it can’t just be America’s Promise working toward these goals -- and that’s not even the purpose of the Alliance.  America, and America’s Promise, needs everyday people and communities to step up to the plate, to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, to work toward making a better future so that they are capable of doing the same.  At the Children’s Budget Summit Senator Patty Murray asked, “What do we stand for?” to which the others replied this was a moment in history when we Americans would have to decide.  We may not be policy-makers but we can be the policy-influencers.  Regardless of our distance from Washington, D.C., what happens here affects all of us and it’s about time we started acting like it.

Washington, D.C. is an interesting place that is unlike any other place I have been in America.  Last year I traveled across the United States by car and at the end of the summer to see what adventures I would find but the only place I wanted to be was in the nation’s capital.  So this summer, instead of lying out by Miami Beach and taking trips to the Keys, I applied to be an America’s Promise Alliance intern to continue to make this nation a better place for children to grow and live.  Regardless of where I am after this I know I will be fighting for the rights of our nation’s most precious resource: children.