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Sing a Song Full of Hope: Rights of Children of African Descent

Ghanaian School Child
Cristina Velez, a graduate intern at the UU-UNO, gives her account of the November 17 United Nations NGO Committee on Children's Rights held at the UN Church Center in New York City.   

“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; facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on till victory is won.” James Weldon Johnson, Lift Every Voice and Sing

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified in the month of November and 2011 was named the Year of Peoples of African Descent.  In observance of these two significant highlights, Thursday’s meeting held by the NGO Committee on Children’s Rights at the United Nations, moderated by Dr. Corann Okorodudu, was centered around the Progress on the Rights of Children of African Descent.  The event fused academic perspectives together with cultural elements through vocal and poetic performances. Therese Folkes Plair began the meeting by explaining the importance of James Weldon Johnson’s poem, an excerpt of which is included above, to 20th century African American history. Plair went on to sing a powerful rendition of the song, while drumming, and her partner played the cello.  This message of strength and hope set the tone for the afternoon’s discussion about the status of children of African descent.  Professor Kaime, who is also an international attorney, first spoke of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).  Kaime charged all of us, as international advocates, to consider that the CRC does not address the protection of children’s rights in Africa through a cultural lens; therefore, Kaime sees the CRC as only a small piece of the struggle to protect children’s rights. He further proposes that states should better protect children’s rights through engaging in dialogue with local authorities to ensure that a national legal framework has cultural relevance and context beyond the CRC’s principles.  Next, Ms. Melba Butler, a lecturer from Hunter College and ex-director of a Harlem Family and Child Services Agency, spoke of the remarkable disparities between children in the U.S. of African descent in comparison with their counterparts.  Specifically, Butler discussed some of her research on the state of foster care and the overwhelming numbers of children of African descent who make up a majority of this system. Butler reminds us that of the entire U.S. child population, black children make up 14%.  Yet, when examining the national population of children in foster care, 29% are black children; in New York City, that statistic is at a whopping 45%. Lastly, a member of the NGO Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, Ms. Monorama Biswas, discussed her research on African children and how they have escaped media attention. After the panelists entertained questions, the moderator introduced socially conscious poet Brandon Lacy Campos, who recited two of his poems.  The meeting concluded with the vocal performance of 16-year-old Busisiwe Zamisa, who chose to sing a Miriam Makeba song in the South African Xhosa language.  The significance of her presence at the conclusion of this meeting should not be understated.  Ms. Zamisa’s youthful energy and poise reminded each of us of the promise that youth holds, and the power and resiliency of peoples of African descent all over the globe.