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The Promise to America’s Children and Youth

20 years ago last week, five living Presidents and Nancy Reagan were gathered together in Philadelphia at an event called the President’s Summit for America’s Future, hosted by General Colin Powell, to make a promise to our children and youth. Leaders from all sectors and all 50 states, along with young people from hundreds of communities, committed to one another and the nation that together they would provide all youth access to the critical success factors that they needed to thrive: a life filled with caring adults; safe spaces to learn, play, and grow; health and wellness for the best start in life; skills for meaningful and prosperous employment; and opportunities to share their gifts with others through service. They called these the “Five Promises,” and advancing them became the rallying cry for the America’s Promise Alliance.

I had a special seat at that Summit, even though I rarely had the chance to sit down while I was there. As a staff member of America’s Promise, I managed the logistics and much of the programming for the event. One of my fondest memories is of calling the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau to book the venue: “Hello, I’ll be bringing all the living Presidents to town for a Summit next year, and I’d like to reserve every hotel room in the city for 4 days.” There was silence on the other end of the line…then finally, “Who are you?  Where are you calling from? Presidents of what?”

That was the start to a career defining experience for me, and it has since shaped every role in my professional life.

Last week, America’s Promise celebrated its 20th anniversary in New York City, an event that inspired us all to #Recommit2Kids. Led again by Colin and Alma Powell, the event featured President Clinton and a line-up of incredible speakers, young people, and performers who passionately made the case once again that we must help guide all of our nation’s children to a life of opportunity, fulfillment, prosperity, and contribution. This time I was a guest, and yes, I was glued to my seat the entire time.

It was heartening to see that America’s Promise has maintained its relevance for a new generation of young people, and even more gratifying to see how much has been accomplished since 1997. And yet, I found myself impatient and disappointed that we haven’t yet solved so many of the root problems that continue to plague or nation’s youth – especially those living in financial, social, or spiritual poverty.

We know, in the quiet of conscience, that our children deserve better.

They deserve a life that rewards their dreams, a life of opportunity, unburdened by injustice. Equal opportunity is the defining promise of our country. It is a commitment that should unite right and left, rural and urban, rich and poor. Without equality of opportunity, economic differences harden through generations in a way that is inconsistent with our nation’s ideals.” Colin and Alma Powell

20 years later, I am still optimistic that we can expedite our progress because of the evolution of the conversation since 1997. Having participated in both events, it was evident to me that we’ve grown as a people to be more accepting, more inventive, and more precise. We’ve grown as a culture where inclusivity and equity are the expectations, and exclusion and inequity are called out for what they are. The quality of the dialogue is so much richer today than it was a generation ago in Philadelphia.

Consider these themes that resonated throughout the event:

  • Identity: Young people celebrated who they are, not what they’ve done. The amazing and talented IMPACT Rep Theater and City Kids loudly and proudly shared their truths with us in performance of song, dance, and poetry. They expressed their authentic identities in ways that wasn’t safe for them to do 20 years ago, and we, as adults in the audience, embraced them with love.

“It shouldn’t require heroism to be a child.” Tiffany Yu

  • Data: Our embrace of data in the past 20 years has shed light on problems and the solutions that can be scaled for more effective intervention. For example, Nadine Burke Harris from the Center for Youth Wellness shared research on the biological consequences of the toxic stress that is caused by childhood adversity, including increased heart disease, depression, and other health risks for children that can carry into their adult years. Her solution is to ensure that educators and pediatricians know how to screen for and intervene in adverse childhood experiences, before they become biological aftermaths.
  • Equity: Nearly every speaker spoke to the need for universal equity for our children and youth. Not just equality; equity. Not just diversity; inclusion. And not about the bad choices that kids make, but about our failure as a society to provide all kids with sanctuary so they can survive and thrive. In 1997 we talked about equality, diversity, and dare I say, the blaming of parents. We know better now, and even though we have miles to go, I was inspired by the conversation and I believe that working together, we can achieve the equity that all kids deserve.

“In order to help children at risk, we have to be able to do things that are uncomfortable.” Bryan Stevenson

  •  Reach: There were about 800 people in the room at the Marriott Marquis this week, but there were well over 1 million people following the live stream and social media conversation. As Alma Powell pointed out, this tremendous increase in reach is something that was not available to us in 1997. And since the event, the retweets and reposts have exponentially exposed people to the issues facing children and youth.

 

There is so much to be done for our kids and for our nation. We must never rest at the sight of injustice and inequity. While there are no excuses for failing to be true to the ideals we hold so dear, I see progress in the quality of the conversation and the solutions we’re advancing today. I have tremendous hope in the promise for America, and I am #Recommitted2Kids.

See Fox Run

“Your child has cancer.”

Every three minutes, a parent somewhere in the world hears those four words. Every three minutes, a child is diagnosed with cancer.

One in five children diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. and Canada will not survive. And while cancer is the leading cause of death by disease among children in the U.S., only 4 percent of federal cancer research funding goes towards kids.

This month marks National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, as proclaimed by President Obama earlier this week, and many of the statistics I referenced above are from a compelling new video just released by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.

Here at C.Fox, we’ve proudly been investing our time and talents in issues of pediatric health for years. But as many know about us, we rarely, if ever, step up to the plate and call it quits. I like to think that we take more of a “running the bases” approach to serving our clients, and issues connected to children’s health and welfare have long been of great importance to us.

That’s why on Saturday, October 3, our entire agency (including our children) will participate in the Race for Every Child, a 5K run/walk and Kids Dash to help ensure that every child treated at Children’s National Health System–one of the nation’s first children’s hospitals–can receive the world-class care they need, regardless of his or her family’s ability to pay. Our team, aptly named See Fox Run, has committed to raise a minimum of $5,000 to help Children’s National fund ongoing research and to provide the best patient care to every child who comes through their doors. Last year alone, nearly half a million children received treatment at the hospital, many of them undergoing treatment for childhood cancers.

So what if we each took three minutes of our own day to do something for those children?

Join us. Take three minutes of this day to help support the work of pediatric doctors, nurses, researchers, and every remarkable person who shows up at Children’s National every day with the vision of making life healthier for our kids.

We hope you’ll consider joining our team (and being among the first to get a limited edition ‘See Fox Run’ race day tee), supporting us virtually, or sharing this week’s intersection with your own friends, family and colleagues. If we all step up, perhaps the race to cure pediatric cancers can move from a slow jog to a sprint.

Early registration for the Race for Every Child ends on September 19 and all registration closes on September 29. 

Breaking a Bad Habit

While flipping through a recent edition of The Economist, we came across an article on philanthropy called “Doing Good By Doing Well.” A title like that will always slow our pace, but in this case, it’s what we found in the subhead that completely stopped us. It read:

“Lessons from business for charities”

It’s an easy mistake right? It’s one we’ve heard and seen for years, going back to the 80s whenPeter Drucker stated it in reverse. The error of the text, in our opinion, is that charities and nonprofits are in fact businesses. In the context of a well-balanced article, it’s clear the author intended to communicate, “Lessons from for-profit businesses for other businesses…that just so happen to be structured as nonprofits.” It’s not as eloquent of a subhead, but accurate, particularly for the article that followed. However, as written, the subhead assumes that all charitable organizations are deficient and that they must learn from their smarter counterpart, the for-profit.

The debate the article wrestles with is nothing new — strategic, disciplined and outcomes-focused “business-like” thinking is indeed a good thing.  But so is the ability to pivot quickly, think creatively, and care personally when a community needs you. Can you be both? Indeed. So, why the perceived gap between management effectiveness?

The truth is, we see this popping up more and more. It’s overheard in conversations and in intimate settings with foundation leaders: “If they just ran it like a business.” Leaving out the obvious point from above (they are businesses), but also inserting an implication that all businesses are well-run —a point perhaps even more vexing.

It just comes down to the basics. Market participants need to be able to correctly state that nonprofits ARE businesses with their own sets of internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats. But, they must also recognize that ALL businesses, for profit or otherwise, are run in their own way. Before suggesting that “ABC” organization be “run more like a business,” think about the business you have in mind, and name it. In specificity, there might actually be something tangible to learn.

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