Jan 21

We Are Not Done


Last week, Stage I Preschool teacher, Colleen Shelton shared a story with me about one of her students.  It seems the student was home with his mother watching Governor Snyder’s State of the State presentation when the Governor said something that the Mom thought was unkind.

Looking at the television, the Mom exclaimed, “Civility!”

Listening to his mother respond to the Governor, the Roeper preschooler said to his Mom,

“No no Mom, not Civility, Civil Rights!”

Our children are always listening, they are always seeking information and guidance, but most of all they are looking to us to see how we respond.  What sort of role models will we be?

In a school where one of the core tents of our philosophy is. “To strive to make equal human rights a priority for all people,” we have a responsibility to model and explain to our children what we mean.  George Roeper wrote,

“When I was at school as a student, we talked about the new things, the coming things, and sat in armchairs discussing how to reform the world, how to fight Hitler and the Nazis, but we did not do anything about it.  We did not go out in the street and demonstrate for what we believed in; we did not go out and parade, arguing against dictatorships.  We did not go out to the slums to help the poor; we did not help to teach the deprived.  We only talked about it…There is a vast difference between talking about it and doing something about it.  It is easy to sit comfortably in the armchair and discuss these questions but it takes courage to initiate action, to show leadership and make people listen to you.”

We are the stewards of a philosophical legacy first conceived by survivors of injustice, by a family that saw mankind at its worst and dreamed of creating an environment where taking care of each other, ensuring that everyone had a voice, and where justice instead of power was the foundation of our operation.

Much has been done in the name of social justice since the Roeper’s fled Nazi Germany some 75 years ago.  Yet we turn on the news and see voiceless people at home and around the world unable to feel safe because of who they are and what they believe.  We are not done.

On the nightly news, we view clips in black and white film, images captured from an earlier generation – we watch young people – Freedom Riders – facing water cannons, police dogs, and extreme violence seeking human rights.  We see crowds gather around the Lincoln Memorial – 50 year ago – yearning for civil rights, daring to dream about human rights, and today we want to think that we surely have overcome.

An African American man sits in the Oval Office, and some dare to think that we live in a post-racial world.  The news clip changes to a modern day protest outside the White House and we see the Confederate flag waving in protest on Pennsylvania Avenue.  The Supreme Court changes the Voting Rights Law and new state laws that limit access to the polls are enacted overnight – we understand.  We are not done.

It’s been 50 years since President Lyndon Baines Johnson declared war on poverty – seemingly, the longest war we as Americans have ever fought.  Today, our First Lady leads an initiative on childhood obesity; surely we live in a land where hunger has been defeated.   Stories of children on food stamps, and without basic healthcare stream through our media, grocery stores close and leave our cities making it more difficult for Americans to eat a nutritious meal. We are not done.

Another man with a dream, Nelson Mandela, said in his acceptance speech after being awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, “At the southern tip of the continent of Africa, a rich reward [is] in the making, an invaluable gift is in the preparation for those who suffered in the name of all humanity when they sacrificed everything. This reward will not be measured in money. Nor can it be reckoned in the collective price of the rare metals and precious stones that rest in the bowels of the African soil; we tread in the footsteps of our ancestors. It will and must be measured by the happiness and welfare of the children, at once the most vulnerable citizens in any society and the greatest of our treasures. The children must, at last, play in the open veld, no longer tortured by the pangs of hunger or ravaged by disease or threatened with the scourge of ignorance, molestation and abuse.”

His commitment as a leader to South Africa’s children was the extension of a principle that has governed leaders of communities for generations:  If the children are well, then all of us are well.

President Mandela’s words echo Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream for the well-being of his children, and for the children of the United States.  In his Nobel Peace Prize speech Dr. King said:  “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits,” words now written on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.  We are not done.

George Roeper, Nelson Mandela, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at different moments in history about not becoming bystanders – they reminded us that as long as power triumphs over justice and human rights are not available to all – our work is not done.

At their core, each man knew that the future of our world depended on the environment we would create for our children.  As Annemarie Roeper taught us, Children are our only hope for a brighter future and the future depends on them.

Marian Wright Edelman, Director of the Children’s Defense Fund understands this idea with incredible clarity and chose this year to voice her thoughts in the form of a prayer.  Ms. Wright Edelman asks us to remember all of the children all over the world – each who struggles to live and realize his/her potential.  She wrote:

O God of the children of Somalia, Sudan, and Syria,

Of South Africa and South Carolina,

Of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and of India, Iraq, Iran, and Israel

Of the Congo and Chicago, of Darfur and Detroit

Of Myanmar and Mississippi and Louisiana and Yemen

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.


O God of Black and Brown and White and Albino children

and those all mixed together,

Of children who are rich and poor and in between,

Of children who speak English and Russian and Hmong and Spanish and languages our ears cannot discern,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.


O God of the child prodigy and the child prostitute,

of the child of rapture and the child of rape,

Of runaway or thrown away children who struggle every day without parent or place or friend or future,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.


O God of children who can walk and talk and hear and see and sing and dance and jump and play and of children who wish they could but can’t

Of children who are loved and unloved, wanted and unwanted,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.


O God of beggar, beaten, abused, neglected, homeless, AIDS, drug, violence,

and hunger-ravaged children,

Of children who are emotionally and physically and mentally fragile,

and of children who rebel and ridicule, torment and taunt,

Help us to love and respect and protect them all.


O God of children of destiny and of despair, of war and of peace,

Of disfigured, diseased, and dying children,

Of children without hope and of children with hope to spare and to share,

Help us to love and respect and act to protect them all.


We know our work is not done –

Happy Birthday Dr. King!



  1. Readng your message gives me confidence that my grandchildren at roeper will be further imbued with the values that really matter in our society, that they will grow up with the courage to speak truth to power and act with integrity as true citizens of the world. Thank you so much for sharing your vision with us and with our children who will soon carry responsibility for living humanely in a world seeming to stand in opposition to all things truly human.

  2. That’s a beautiful essay, David. I love Marian Edelman’s Prayer and the message that we need to continue to see everyone as our brother and sister, and Worthy of our attention.

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