By Terri Sorensen, CEO of Friends of the Children
Each February, we take time to celebrate the merits and contributions of black leaders throughout history who have had an indelible impact on our society. We are particularly inspired by historical and current figures who have fought for racial justice within our education, criminal justice and child welfare systems—systems that have created barriers that can prevent children and families from achieving overall health and well-being.
They are educators, like Lucy Laney, who, during the Jim Crow-era in the 1880s, founded a school in Augusta, Ga., believing it was essential to cultivate the minds of her students, and particularly black women, who would go on to be future educators.
They are scholars, like Oregon native Michelle Alexander, a civil rights attorney, advocate, legal scholar and author who wrote The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, a book that has reshaped the current national debate on racial and criminal justice.
They are child welfare pioneers, like Fredericka Douglass Sprague Perry, the granddaughter of the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who in 1934 founded the Colored Big Sister Home for Girls, calling attention to the need for foster care services for black children in Kansas City, Mo.
All of these leaders have one thing in common: they demanded equality (and equity) for children and families harmed by oppressive systems. Because so many of these inequities still exist, Friends of the Children celebrates Black History every day of the year.
Every day, we hold ourselves accountable to one of our organization’s core values: Demand Equity. Every day, we are building future leaders who will be part of American History. Every day, we are empowering and celebrating black communities. Every day, we strive to create mutual respect for and understanding of different cultures and lived experiences. Every day, we work to create belonging and inclusivity so our youth can explore their unique cultures and identities with pride.
Every day, we are proud of the incredible accomplishments of our youth who—regardless of where they come from or the barriers they face—have the innate potential to achieve their hopes and dreams. They go on to serve our country, become musicians and beauticians, graduate from college and become role models in our communities. They are the heroes of their own stories.
We are also immensely grateful for our leaders and staff across the Friends of the Children network who identify with the black community. Their contributions to our organization are substantial: they are innovators, educators, community leaders, reformers, advocates, business leaders and caring adults who are empowering our youth with love and support—no matter what.
Our promise is that we will continue to demand equity 365 days a year. We are honored to have the opportunity to walk alongside our youth in supporting their aspirations. They are our future leaders, and they are counting on us.