The heartbreaking photo of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his not-even-two-year old daughter, Valeria, made me want to simultaneously scream, envelop my own two young sons in a hug, and do something—anything—to help. Almost a year ago to the day, America’s Promise Alliance released a statement on the forced separation of children at the U.S. border. This image shows the appalling lack of progress we’ve made in a year. As I wrote at the time, this could easily have been my story and it is as unacceptable today as it was then. Regardless of your stance on immigration, we can all agree that we all have a responsibility to protect our children. And make no mistake, Valeria and the thousands of children in these circumstances are OUR children.
America’s Promise believes that every child—including Valeria—should have the chance to succeed and that every adult—not just her parents—is responsible for making that happen. I hope that we can come together to be the caring adults for the children and families who are in these difficult circumstances.
I write this, humbled, knowing that these are just words. But I want to use this space to acknowledge the adults and communities who are working to help recent immigrants to our country every day.
I witnessed this first-hand on my visit to Promesa-Boyle Heights in California last month. Their English Learner program supports English Learners who are new to this country and the schools they attend. Promesa teaches newcomers—and their parents—how to navigate a school system that is different, complex, and can be intimidating. They serve newcomers in a cohort together in community with other young people who have shared experiences and connect them to college-aged near-peer mentors.Through bi-monthly check-ins in both large groups and one on one supports, students receive academic, social-emotional, and system navigation coaching and support.
Promesa’s dedication to supporting these young people shows us the importance of caring adults and the power of community in healing. Stories like these are unfolding in communities across the nation. Teachers, mentors, social workers, and neighbors are serving young people who have experienced extreme trauma and have risked so much for a better future.
As I said a year ago, if we believe “this is not who we are,” we must prove it. We cannot look away because it is hard. We must act together to live up to the promise that we’ve made to all children.
Below, please find some resources that are focused on helping to support young people new to our country through a focus on social and emotional well-being and trauma-informed practices.