Open a newspaper or surf the Internet and it won’t take you long to find any variety of thinkpieces bemoaning the havoc “millennials” have wrecked on the world. It’s become so unreasonable one of my friends uses a browser extension that changes any mention of millennials to “the serpent people.”
But amidst all the noise and debate on relatively privileged adults, I fear we’ve lost our way to a basic question, “are the kids alright?”
Every child has lived through a moment of vulnerability, a moment when the world revealed its cruel face and laughed at its innocence. Recently, I’ve been struck by how infrequently we gather these stories of our children together to work as a unified cause.
The stories of the indigenous girls who go missing and unaccounted for.
The boy who employers reject because of his poor, gang-controlled neighborhood.
The clumsy explorer who breaks a window, not knowing the landlord will use this as grounds for her family’s eviction.
The confident boy with dreams who is frequently stopped by authorities because all they see is an adult threat without fear in his eyes.
The migrant child with a fever who tosses to sleep in a tent after six weeks of not seeing her father.
Many will detect policy issues and intersections of social, economic, and political well-being in these snapshots. We need all these ideas and more. But the true threat to our childrens’ lives is that we do not see some children as ours. Some children are innocent and worthy of protection and everyone else is only seen as foreign.
The state of our children is a reflection of our failure to love, which is a failure of our imagination. For example, in the aftermath of violence against Tamir Rice and Relisha Rudd, a community activist reminded us that imagining black life is a daily radical choice in a world obsessed with (and profiting from) depicting black bodies in chains, desperation, and death.
If you don’t see how imagination can make a difference, think of it this way: we often know what we are against but rarely what we desire. And how will we recognize success if we don’t know our goal? Let’s say our only advocacy for detained migrant youth is, “no children in tents.” There’s the real danger we might be satisfied with their new mattresses when our ultimate vision is family unification. So regardless of our location or profession, let’s begin imagining and then insisting on dignifying lives for all of our children.
Today, I imagine…
A Navajo daughter who knows her rights and is not afraid to denounce the violence that stalks her sisters. She stands with a grandmother on a river’s edge, learning every inch of land that will be hers to tend and defend.
In Milwaukee and Flint and Baltimore, no child is too poor for safe water, clean air, and lead-free paint in their homes. Cousins play on the stairs, in driveways, in parks and fear no evil. When caregivers leave for work, the landlady makes sure they have access to a safe, affordable daycare.
In a public disagreement between proud teenagers, first responders trained in de-escalation intervene before anyone else.
The curious brown girl gazes around her classroom, her long beaded box braids following the whip of her neck. She asks bold questions in two languages and her public school gives her opportunities to direct her endless fountain of ideas instead of detention.
Depending on your childhood and who you’ve traditionally considered, “our children,” some of these futures might be harder for you to envision. But now it’s your turn.
A rural teenager comes out to their youth pastor and then_________.
A Honduran teenager shows up at the border alone and then_________.
A brother and sister seek to find a future at home in Nigeria or India or Guatemala and then_______.
Imagine. Insist. And then stretch your muscles of care and imagination so that they support these same children when they become adults.
Comfort Sampong’s heart is sparked by fried plantains, tropical foliage and the stories of women thriving and creating a way out of no way. She graduated in 2018 with majors in economics and international development. Now she lives in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where she works on English communications for the Association for a More Just Society, a Honduran non-profit fighting for justice and peace.