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National Black Group Organizes To Identify Programs That Work

New 800 number offers start of building nationwide network


`LEAVE no child behind" is the rallying cry of a new national umbrella organization of black community leaders known as the Black Community Crusade for Children (BCCC).

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Coordinated through the nonprofit Children's Defense Fund (CDF) in Washington, D.C., the BCCC aims to mobilize the resources and leadership of black communities everywhere. Its objective is to change the increasingly destructive social scene facing black children today.

According to the Children's Defense Fund, every 18 minutes in the United States a black child is arrested for a drug offense, every six hours a black child dies from a gunshot wound, every 46 seconds of the school day a black child drops out of school, and every 69 seconds a black baby is born to an unmarried mother.

"Not since slavery have we suffered the family breakdown we see today," says Marian Wright Edelman, CDF president. "Never before has America or the black community permitted children to rely on guns and gangs rather than parents, neighbors, and community institutions for their protection and love."

Angela Glover Blackwell, president of the Urban Strategies Council in Oakland, Calif., and a regional coordinator for BCCC, says: "History and reality make it clear that the black community bears a disproportionate burden in eliminating racial and class injustice," she says, "and now we will share the lessons and approaches we have learned in isolation, and put them in the same pot for the good of our children."

Initially the BCCC, with offices at the CDF, will function as a clearinghouse for information about hundreds of successful social programs and projects for black children in US communities. It offers a toll-free number - 1-800-ASK-BCCC - for collecting and disseminating names and sources. It also will network the details of organizing community work. Later, national strategies will be developed.

"The strength of our knowledge is the local base," says Ms. Blackwell, "and we won't lose that."

Carolyn Reid-Green, president of the Drew Child Development Corporation in South Central Los Angeles, and a coordinator for BCCC, says her "dream and hope is to see black communities put their arms around our children."

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"In two years [BCCC] should have a national-action plan carefully crafted by all these wonderful people with tremendous skills. We have to create some hope for the future," she says.

WITH CDF's help, BCCC already has projects under way: institutes of leadership training to train 1,000 new black leaders for the 1990s, summer "freedom schools" staffed by black college students, an emphasis on assuring that every eligible child has access to Head Start, establishing a religious action campaign to strengthen youth and family ministries in and out of churches, and community mobilization strategies to prevent violence by and to black children.

"Black groups have had a tendency to work alone in isolation," says Geoffry Canada, president of the Rheedlen Centers for Children and Families in Harlem in New York City, "as if the world was central Harlem. The Black Crusade will give us the opportunity now to share, to come together and learn the best-practice techniques from each other."

A veteran community worker in Los Angeles, hesitant to openly criticize the BCCC, says the new effort faces several challenges. "First, it's a coordinating effort with no leader as a sparkplug," he says. "The real issue is money to support programs. And many of these community organizations identifying themselves with BCCC and providing vital services are competing for federal and state funds."

In the area of stopping violence and killing, he says, up to now there has been "only a police response," in cities, "and it has failed."

Dr. Reid-Green knows the ongoing difficulties of searching for funding. "Very few community organizations have what a friend of mine calls `stability above survival,' " she says.

But even with funding, most community organizations will have difficulty reversing violence in communities, she adds.

How will the success of BCCC be measured? "In the improved outcomes for our children," says Blackwell, "and that means they are healthy, safe, well-educated, and moving toward economic sufficiency as they become adults.

"Some of the issues are money issues, such as comprehensive prenatal care for women. Mentoring, for instance, is not a money issue, but a commitment of time, of connecting caring adults to children. Many programs are questions of time and will, and we want to increase people's knowledge about what they could be doing to help their communities."

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