It’s Christmas. Big deal.
Yeah, I know, strange words and sentiments coming from a Christian minister, especially on Christmas Day.
Perhaps you disagree, and that is OK with me. Because even the folk who celebrate Christmas, either as part of their faith’s practice or as a family tradition, can’t agree on the purpose of the holiday or much else these days. Let’s face it: Our nation is at war with itself and deeply divided over matters of religion, race, politics, pandemic protocols and even the reality and dangers of the COVID-19 virus. Even though we are all humans trying to survive and cope amidst a worldwide pandemic, the polarization and divisions in our nation are undeniable and real.
While some folks are thinking about and planning for the upcoming midterm elections in 2022, others are calling into question the validity of the 2020 presidential election. We are the yet-to-be United States and our country is a hot mess.
The average American is woefully ignorant of their next-door neighbor’s plight, let alone cognizant of the complexities and nuances of our nation’s involvement in foreign affairs.
And before you raise an eyebrow at my words and call into question my loyalty to our country based on honest criticism of our nation’s current state, I might remind you of the words of CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow, “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.”
Americans have an opinion on everything, agree on very little, if anything, and … it’s Christmas. Big deal.
So, what are we to do? Or, in the words of one of Dr. King’s most memorable sermons, “Where do we go from here?”
On this particular day of all others, I suggest there’s only one bridge that can take us across our nation’s deep rivers of difference and division and over the hills of hate and hopelessness: a collective and concerted commitment to the well-being and betterment of all of our nation’s children. All of them. If Christmas and the holiday season is about anything, it’s about children. From the one born in a Bethlehem barn long ago to impoverished teenage parents lacking prenatal health care and housing, to the white children of privilege killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, to the Black, brown and poor children of promise stuck in underfunded, inadequately resourced schools in cities like Allentown, Reading, and Philadelphia.
“Kasserian Ingera” is still the traditional greeting among members of the mighty Maasai tribe of Kenya and Tanzania. The two words ask the question, “And how are the children?” Members of the tribe respond, “All the children are well.”
The people of the Maasai tribe, even those with no children, use this greeting to take the temperature of the community. They understand that the well-being of the entire village … its safety, security, future and financial prosperity, hinges on all of the children being and doing well.
They understand that no community can thrive unless all, and not just some, of the children are well.
Research in the field of early childhood education indicates the first three years of life is the most important time in human development. During this period, initial brain development occurs and the ability to form appropriate attachments in relationships necessary for social and emotional well-being takes hold.
These elements are critical for overall success later in life. Yet in 2021, most of our nation’s parents lack access to affordable high-quality childcare and our “developed” nation has yet to institute universal preschool.
Besides their homes, our children spend more time in their schools from ages 5 to 18 than any other space. Yet, whether students attend a well-funded suburban school district with resource-rich learning environments that ultimately cannot guarantee their safety from gun violence, or an underfunded urban school district lacking the latest technology, air conditioning and drinkable water, one thing is clear: Our nation’s schools are not safe spaces conducive to learning for the majority of our nation’s children.
And I have yet to mention ineffective pedagogies delivered through culturally irrelevant curriculums, inherent student inequities due to systemic racism and white supremacy, and the yet-to-be-realized impact of a pandemic on their psyche and emotional well-being.
All these seemingly unsolvable issues could be systematically addressed if we deemed all children worthy of receiving the necessary resources and support critical to their success, and understood that our success is tied to theirs. There is no magic wand, just a lot of courageous conversations, genuine collaboration, and hard work.
Policies and budgets at all levels of government that prioritize the physical, emotional, educational, and financial well-being of children and their families not only makes our country stronger but makes us better human beings. So now that it’s Christmas and the season of giving, today is the perfect time for all of us to commit to doing the necessary and courageous work required to give all children what’s right, not what’s left.
And until we do, I’ll continue to say, “It’s Christmas. Big deal.”