Dear President Elect Biden:
In 1971, as a professor of human growth and development at the University of the District of Columbia, I participated in the White House Conference on Children that was spearheaded by President Lyndon Johnson as a part of his "War on Poverty." He was ably aided by Mr. Stan Salett, his national education policy advisor. Many innovative educational strategies emerged from this conference, not the least of which were "Sesame Street" and the "Carnegie Corporation Children's Television Workshop."
I was fortunate to serve on a committee with Ms. Marianne Wright-Edelman, who would go on to establish the Children's Defense Fund in 1973, as well as Ms. Jules Sugarman, who had started the Head Start Program in 1965. While the idea Ms. Sugarman pioneered was a catch-up summer enrichment program, it showed great promise to change the course of the lives of poor children. Because it received such great acclaim at the conference, the "Head Start Act" was signed into law in 1981 making Head Start enrichment programs available to every community in the country that served one million children per year.
When wealthier families saw the success of the program in preparing infants for school, the demanded the same opportunity for their children. As it has evolved, ALL children are able to receive the nurturing, nutrition, and age-appropriate education to thrive. Again, in 1975, I served as a consultant that evaluated the parent involvement component of local Head Start Programs in Pennsylvania.
It's been 50 years since that promise of hope to equalize disparities was launched. There is data to suggest that the results have not lived up to expectation. Childhood obesity is on the rise. Educational disparity gaps are increasing.
Does that mean that the concepts of these programs were faulty? I would argue no and it's not time to throw the baby out with the bath water. So, is it time to sanction and plan for the 2022 White House Conference on Children under the Biden/Harris administration?
Obviously, many of the same issues continue to plague our society and several (obesity, inactivity, autism, violence against children, cyber bullying) are relatively new. We need to take advantage of the great minds in this country by bringing them together to address these problems.
In the wealthiest nation on earth, some of our children are denied the opportunity to fulfill their potential, We NEED to start planning for the 2022 White House Conference immediately. I suggest we invite Michelle Obama to chair this initiative. Just as the 1971 conference led to great innovations, this proposed conference will lead to programs to assure our youth a bright future.
Please do what you can to bring this conference to fruition. Great ideas emerge from the collaboration of great minds. I am available to serve in any capacity you deem worthwhile.
B, Waine Kong, Ph.D., JD
Zoe Pediatric Foundations, Inc.