House Majority Whip James Clyburn plans to introduce legislation to designate the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” long a staple in the Black community, as the country’s national hymn.
“To make ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ a national hymn, would be an act of bringing the country together,” reads a Tuesday (Jan. 12) tweet from @WhipClyburn.
“The gesture itself would be an act of healing. Everybody can identify with that song.”
The Democratic congressman from South Carolina could suggest the hymn — often described as the unofficial “Black national anthem” — as soon as this week, USA Today reported.
The hymn, with lyrics about liberty and faith, is often sung on occasions marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month and is featured in hymnals of different faith traditions. But Clyburn thinks it should be sung more beyond predominantly Black communities.
The newspaper quoted Clyburn as distinguishing the hymn from the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“You aren’t singing a separate national anthem,’’ he said, “you are singing the country’s national hymn.”
USA Today reported Clyburn asked his staff to create draft legislation last month, before the recent storming of the U.S. Capitol by insurrectionists and after a surge in racial tensions concerning police brutality and racial injustice.
The song traces its roots to a 1900 celebration of Lincoln’s birthday in Jacksonville, Florida, according to a 2000 book, “Lift Every Voice and Sing: A Celebration of the Negro National Anthem.” James Weldon Johnson penned the words for the occasion; his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, set them to music.
The lyrics are not explicitly tied to a particular faith tradition but do mention “God” several times in the hymn’s third verse.
The song has played at the start of recent gatherings of the “ Beyonce Mass,” been used to awaken astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery and been included in the closing prayer of President Barack Obama’s 2009 swearing-in ceremony. This fall, a decision to feature it at NFL games drew praise and criticism.
“It had historicity; it had the religious context,” said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, when asked by Religion News Service in 2009 why he borrowed the third verse of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in the inaugural benediction.
Lowery, who died in 2020, said he often used its third stanza as a hymn of praise in his worship services. “The Black experience is sort of wrapped up in that hymn.”
In USA Today, Clyburn echoed Lowery and said his plan is not merely a symbolic one.
“It’s a very popular song that is steeped in the history of the country,” he said.
He added “I’ve always been skittish” about it once being described as the “Negro national anthem.”
Rather, he thinks it’s a song for all and not just some in the nation.
“We should have one national anthem, irrespective of whether you’re Black or white,” he said. “So to give due honor and respect to the song, we ought to name it the national hymn.”
The first verse of the hymn is as follows:
Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea,
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Last week, news reports told of a 2-year-old boy who was left at a Mississippi Goodwill donation center with a bag of clothes and a note that said, “His mother cannot care for him anymore.”
Many were quick to blame the child’s mother out of frustration and outrage. That’s a natural response, but I urge you to take a different approach to this boy’s story.
Culturally, we are programmed to hear about an abandoned child and think: He could have been adopted. How horrible of his mother. I would never do that. And in fact hundreds of generous people offered to adopt the 2-year-old boy in question. The love we instinctually feel for a child in need is beautiful, and there’s a small truth here: This child does deserve a loving, safe home and family.
But my question is: Why isn’t our first instinct to find and help his parents so that they can have a chance of providing that to him?
Think for a moment of just how dire this mother’s life circumstances were for her to believe that her only option was to abandon her child. When a parent gives up a child, it’s often an act of desperate love, a hope that their child will have a better chance at life than they have. In a refugee camp in Sudan I once visited, a young mother standing outside of her mud house, on making eye contact with me, held up her baby and begged me to take him with me.
Even in our country, family separation is a devastating reality often caused by circumstances outside of parents’ control.
Children sometimes enter foster care because a crisis at home threatens their safety or well-being. They may have experienced abuse, neglect or been exposed to violence. But the vast majority of kids in foster care come from families navigating poverty, injustice, addiction, medical issues or the unforgiving grind of parents working two to three jobs to make ends meet.
Their parents have often been forced to make impossible decisions. Some have to leave their children at home unattended so they can keep their jobs, pay their bills, keep food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.
Add to that the stressors we’re all facing in 2020: A global pandemic has infected millions of people in the U.S. and shut down businesses, schools and childcare facilities. Thousands have been displaced from their homes by natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, and the country is still recovering from the economic recession. Many parents are struggling to cope without a network of support.
Black families are disproportionately exposed to these stressors, which are layered on top of centuries of systemic racism. The entangled roots of systemic racism and child welfare mean that Black children are nearly twice as likely to be put into foster care as white children, a system that did not include them until the late 20 century, at which point they were patched into a system built around and for white children, families and communities. Black children stay in foster care longer, and they are less likely to be reunified with their families or adopted.
Family reunification is the most important goal for children in foster care. Yet, according to the most recent statistics from the Children’s Bureau, the proportion of children exiting care who were reunified with their parents fell to an all-time low at the end of fiscal year 2019. Only 55% of the over 400,000 children in foster care at the end of fiscal year 2019 were seeking family reunification, and just 47% of the children who exited foster care achieved it.
How should we respond when confronted with the fact that thousands of families were separated this year not because parents failed their children but because broken systems did?
We can start by acknowledging the complex challenges that have overwhelmed families and left them in a desperate state with few good options. Then we must help parents get the support they need for a second chance at staying together with their kids. Separated families can be reunited and restored.
We must remember that we’re meant to be Jesus’ hands and feet, not the savior himself. While there is family brokenness in the world, we as Christians are called to enter into the mess and work to restore families to health and unity. We are called to provide a network of support for these families — not break them apart when they have the opportunity to thrive.
Christian churches have long championed adoption, and that’s a good thing. But followers of Jesus should also come alongside struggling families, helping them stay together and flourish so that adoption isn’t needed. It’s not an either/or proposition but a both/and. Adoption and family preservation are two sides of the same coin.
God’s plan is for children to thrive in a family, ideally their strong and stable biological family. Reunification provides a path toward healing and belonging for children and families.
We can celebrate children finding permanency with adoptive families. But we must also celebrate families who stayed together.
(Chris Palusky is the president & CEO of Bethany Christian Services. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
Moments Of Kindness And Solidarity Shine During George Floyd Protests | TODAY | Video Courtesy of TODAY
A tin of cookies is left on the running board of an ambulance outside a nursing home with a note for the emergency workers who operate it: “You’re AMAZING! Yes, you!”
A baggie sits on the edge of a fountain with dozens of copper coins and another message, for anyone who passes by and fancies tossing one in: “Take a penny. Make a wish! Hope your dreams come true.”
This is the world of Sparks of Kindness, an online community of people going out of their way to put a smile on the faces of others through small but touching good deeds, especially in tumultuous times of pandemic, protests and political division.
“There’s so much bad in the world, and that’s kind of what we hear about,” said Debbie McFarland, a 53-year-old photographer from Peachtree City, Georgia, who founded the group on Facebook. “But I found that there’s so many people that want to do good — they just don’t really know how to start.”
That’s where Sparks of Kindness comes in. It has lists of ideas for “sparks,” or small kindnesses people can do such as thanking a teacher with candy or leaving coloring books in a hospital waiting room.
Users share their ideas and stories in the forum. Among them:
— “Took flowers to the neighbor. She had been caring for a sick friend and thought she could use a little cheer.”
— “I gave the guy in front of me $20 since his debit didn’t go through. My emergency $20 came in handy… he hugged me, so I may get Covid, but he was very appreciative!”
— “Took hot soup and biscuits to a sick mama next door.”
McFarland said she encourages people to do “sparks” when they’re struggling in their own lives. It helps them cope with their own traumas.
She enjoys leaving notes in stores for others to find — say, “You’re beautiful just the way you are” in the cosmetics aisle, or “This too shall pass. Hang in there” amid the cold and flu remedies.
Once, McFarland watched in a grocery store as a weary woman in medical scrubs with three crying young children in tow came across one of those pick-me-ups. She looked around, broke out in a smile and tucked the note into her pocket.
She’s also fond of the story of a woman who put her 4-year-old daughter’s comforter in the washing machine at a laundromat, only to realize she didn’t have money for the dryer. Almost by magic, a bag of quarters left by a member of the group materialized. After the woman went on the Facebook group and posted her thanks, another member bought her a new dryer.
McFarland encourages people to keep their eyes open for random acts of kindness, like helping an older adult struggling to load groceries into the trunk. But she also wants them to do good with planning and intent — “deliberate acts of kindness,” as she puts it.
“When you’re making your to-do list for the day or the week, you think about where you’re going that particular day,” she said. “If you’re going to the tire shop, maybe swing by and pick up a pack of cookies. … Or if you know you’re going to the school, maybe pick up a hot chocolate for the crossing guard.”
Launched several years ago, Sparks of Kindness has grown to some 5,000 members in about 40 countries, according to McFarland. Interest has picked up during the pandemic, with about 500 new people joining since it began.
“During this pandemic, I think people are starting to realize that … every person you come into contact with is fighting some kind of battle, whether it’s appointments or unmet expectations of others or health or bullying or whatever it is,” McFarland said. “Everyone’s facing a battle, and if you can get one tiny spark to ignite a hope within them, then it does something within them.”
“One Good Thing” is a series that highlights individuals whose actions provide glimmers of joy in hard times — stories of people who find a way to make a difference, no matter how small. Read the collection of stories at https://apnews.com/hub/one-good-thing
Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
Katherine Davila has been struggling to feed her family since March, when she lost her job as a preschool teacher.
So Davila, a 46-year-old single mother in Fort Lauderdale, has cut spending — no recreation, no extra clothes — everywhere she could. For food, she relies on donations from her local church and from charitable organizations. That means she isn’t always able to give her two kids — who have switched to remote learning — the snacks they’re used to having. When there still isn’t enough food for her and her kids, she serves herself less. It’s what any mother would do, she says.
“As a mother, you would just stop consuming as much food,” Davila said through a translator. “You would be eating less, so the kids would have bigger portions.”
Because Davila’s kids are in remote school, she has to stay home with them; it’s impossible to go find work. She has applied for benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but so far she hasn’t been approved. Since she can’t drive, she has gotten food delivered to her house from local food aid programs, which she shares with a neighbor who is facing similar strains.
Still, she said, it’s not enough.
Due to disastrous, pandemic-induced economic fallout, families across the country are under historic levels of financial strain. It’s exacerbating what was already a stark hunger disparity: Food insecurity, the inability to consistently access healthy food, is skyrocketing, but women — and especially mothers — are carrying much of the burden.
“Women are getting hammered,” said Diane Schanzenbach, an economist at Northwestern University who studies child poverty. “It’s bad. It’s really bad.”
In Washington, D.C., the chances of a big federal relief bill appear tenuous at best. On top of that, multiple pandemic unemployment benefits are set to expire December 26 unless they are reauthorized by Congress. Experts say 12 million people could lose benefits as a result.
“The kind of federal relief people were relying on has expired, and not been renewed,” said Michelle Nunn, the CEO of CARE USA, the domestic branch of international humanitarian group CARE International. “As the virus continues to extend its reach, and we are now threatened with further shutdowns, obviously the folks most impacted are those who are already living on the economic margins. That is taking a particular toll on women.”
CARE focuses on international hunger issues. But this year, Nunn said, the organization has for the first time since its 1945 founding begun providing food aid in the United States as well.
Typically, researchers don’t break down food insecurity studies by gender. But experts agree that, since women are more likely to be caring for children, they are already more vulnerable to experience food insecurity. That gap is now amplified in an economic turndown that has disproportionately penalized women, especially women of color.
“The story is more about presence of children than about gender per se, and more women live with kids,” Schanzenbach said.
What little data exists is revealing: Public data analyzed by Schanzenbach’s team showed that more than one in four women with children reported experiencing food insecurity. When families don’t have enough food, experts say, mothers are the most likely to suffer. Like Davila, they often skip meals or eat less to shield their children.
The Brookings Institution, one of the few organizations to specifically look at mothers, found that in October and early November, 16 percent of mothers with one school-aged child didn’t have enough to feed their child. About one in 10 mothers with kids younger than 5 were in the same boat.
“The fact that 10 percent of mothers who only have kids below school age — their kids aren’t getting enough to eat — is horrible. It’s urgent,” said Lauren Bauer, an economics fellow at Brookings who conducted the research.
Denying children regular access to food has lifelong consequences, including development issues and chronic disease. And, Bauer added, the numbers underscore a larger unseen crisis: Many mothers still can afford to feed their kids, but don’t have enough for themselves.
Data on food insecurity among families shows dramatic racial gaps exist, with Black and Latinx families suffering in higher numbers. That means Black and Latina mothers are likely suffering the most, experts said. It’s almost a secondary pandemic, said Caron Gremont, the early childhood director at No Kid Hungry.
And single mothers are distinctly vulnerable. Even before COVID, households headed by one woman were more likely to experience food insecurity than any other family structure, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Now, the gap is expected to have grown, since single mothers have lost work at higher rates than many other demographic groups. About a quarter of households with children are headed by single mothers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The surge is clear at Bread for the City, a Washington, D.C., service organization that provides food, medical care, legal advice and other social support to low-income residents. Before the pandemic, the organization fed maybe 5,000 people a month. Now, it feeds that many families a week.
The influx is largely driven by Black mothers, especially those raising children on their own, said Lina Permut, the organization’s associate director of development.
“When we talk about communities that are marginalized, that don’t have access to resources, we’re often talking about folks of color — and in particular, women of color and women who are often left raising children on their own, on incomes that are already less than the median,” she said. “We have seen an uptick in the amount of families and the amount of Black women in particular who have needed access to our services.”
The worst, experts worry, is yet to come.
Women have seen a slower economic recovery than men, and any future lockdown — which seems increasingly likely, as COVID-19 cases surge again — would likely imperil jobs in hospitality, retail and service industries, which all disproportionately employ women. Climbing cases mean more school districts are abandoning in-person learning entirely — New York City, the nation’s largest public school district, closed in-person learning only last week — and the trend is likely to continue this winter. That will also deprive many families of a key source of breakfast and lunch.
“The people who have been easily hardest hit, not only by the labor market contractions, but also the costs of having school closures, are single mothers,” Bauer said.
Many districts have set up meal pick-up sites for families who would normally qualify for school breakfast and lunch. But, Bauer said, “If you’re a single mom working a few jobs, how are you supposed to pick up those meals? It’s unreasonable.”
Blanca Collaguazo, who lives in Queens, New York, is already struggling to feed her two children — one who is 18 and the other is 10. She cuts back on her own food, and the hunger often causes her stomach pains.
Collaguazo, who cleans homes, is currently able to find work. But she’s worried that will get more difficult, especially if cases keep climbing in New York. She’s cutting back on expenses, including clothes for her younger daughter. And now, with the prospect of the city’s public schools going remote, she’s bracing for things to get even worse.
“It’s too much stress,” she said. “I’m worried.”
Robin Safley, the CEO of Feeding Florida, the state’s food bank network, isn’t sure the organizations like hers will be able to keep meeting demand.
In typical non-hurricane weather, she said, the network distributes 5.5 million pounds of food per week. Right now, she estimates that number is up to 9 or 10 million. And she knows things will get worse, especially if a shutdown puts more women out of work.
“The charitable arm will not stabilize these families,” Safely said. “We are holding them together.”
Even then, there are gaps, said Dian Alarcón, a field coordinator in Florida with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice. She’s been working around the clock to help women — who often don’t speak English or don’t have a car — access food.
But the food banks are often too far away, or have groceries the women aren’t used to cooking with. And the food banks’ charitable packages, which are delivered to families unable to travel, have gotten smaller since the pandemic began, she said. There isn’t enough protein, or the vegetables inside have already spoiled. She worries especially about the mothers who aren’t able to get food they need.
“Young mothers have been the hardest hit in this pandemic in our community,” she said through a translator. “Young mothers and pregnant women who don’t have access to the nutrition they need.”
The government has put some resources in place, such as introducing a special pandemic program, which gives SNAP recipients more money to account for meals a child might get through school. But economists and food bank coordinators said that without more federal relief — in particular, substantially enhancing benefits from programs like SNAP — the safety net alone won’t be able to meet the growing need. (Bauer and Schanzenbach both argued for a 15 percent boost in SNAP benefits, which was included in the House-passed Heroes Act but remains stalled in the Senate.)
If that help doesn’t come, said Leonard Edwards, who delivers meals for Bread for the City, he doesn’t see how organizations like his can make it through this winter.
“The federal government needs to step in and do their damn jobs. People are hurting, and people need that money,” he said. “If people don’t get help soon, nonprofits are going to run out of food.”