Kasserian Ingera: Celebrating Black History Month
Among the most accomplished and fabled tribes of Africa, no tribe is considered to have warriors more fearsome or more intelligent than the mighty Masai. It is perhaps surprising, then, to learn the traditional greeting that passes between Masai warriors. "Kasserian Ingera," one always says to another. It means, "How are the children?"
This traditional greeting among the Masai acknowledges the high value that the Masai always place on their children's well-being. Even warriors with no children of their own always give the traditional answer: "All the children are well," meaning, of course, that peace and safety prevail, that the priorities of protecting the young, the powerless, are in place, that Masai society has not forgotten its reason for being, its proper functions and responsibilities. "All the children are well" means that life is good. It means that the daily struggles of existence do not preclude proper caring for the young.
I wonder how it might affect our consciousness of our own children's welfare if, in our culture, we took to greeting each other with this daily question: "And how are the children?" I wonder if we heard that question and passed it along to each other a dozen times a day, would it begin to make a difference in the reality of how children are thought of and cared for in our own country, our own community?
Every February, our country honors African-American culture during Black History Month. It’s a time of celebration, but also a time to reflect on the hardships African Americans have faced and continue to face. The ongoing struggle is reflected in the fact that a disproportionate number of African-American children are in foster care. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published in June 2016, 24 percent of foster children are African-American. However, African-American children make up 14 percent of the total number of children in the U.S. The same is true locally, while African American’s make up 30% of St. Louis’ population, they make up 70% of the children currently in foster care. National research indicates that black and brown parents are no more likely to abuse their children than white counterparts.
And while there are already more children of color coming into care in the first place, they also are spending more time in foster care than their peers. On average, African American children spend 32.65 months in foster care prior to achieving permanency compared with white children who, on average, spend 24.93 months in care prior to achieving permanency. In addition to longer stays in out-of-home care, African American children are less likely to return home to their families, be adopted or find legal guardianship than their white counterparts and are more likely to age out of care. Aging out of foster care is associated with negative consequences, and more than half of youth who age out of foster care are youth of color.
So, if you’re asking us here at Voices for Children/CASA of St. Louis, "Are the children well?" The answer is no...no they are not. Many are hungry, neglected, abused, lonely. They feel like they are stupid, undeserving, unimportant and disposable. Our community is not valuing children in a way that communicates otherwise. For many, this starts in their own homes, but the problems are greater than individual families. When did we, as a society, stop seeing the needs of our children...our future...as a priority for us all...whether or not we even have children? Many worry about the well-being of their own child or children, but do not see the needs of others as a primary priority. We've lost the mentality that it takes a village to raise a child. And the consequences are truly devastating for our community.
But there is hope for our kids.
We at Voices for Children/CASA of St. Louis and our volunteer advocates work on behalf of foster children in St. Louis to ensure their needs are met and help them find a safe, permanent home. Providing voices for the voiceless, we pay special attention to the hardships that African-American children and youth continually face not only during Black History Month but also during the additional 11 months throughout the year.
Currently, Voices for Children/CASA of St. Louis serves 572 African American children (80% of the children we serve!) and 62% of these children are in need of a CASA Volunteer. With the help of a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA volunteer, these children and youth are more likely to be adopted, half as likely to re-enter foster care, substantially less likely to spend time in long-term foster care, more likely to have a plan for permanency, and are more likely to have a consistent, responsible adult to speak up for their best interests and help ensure their needs are not only met, but understood.
This Black History Month, ask yourself "Kasserian Ingera," and consider joining us in acknowledging the great work and triumphs of those who came before us, but also in working toward a brighter future for all of St. Louis’ foster children, regardless of the color of their skin. Join us in this effort by becoming a CASA Volunteer and provide a foster child the support they need and the advocacy they deserve.