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Over a decade ago I came across a powerful poem written by Ina J. Hughs, a journalist for the Knoxville News Sentinel. She had published it as a Thanksgiving commentary column in the early 1990s and, after receiving overwhelming responses from people around the globe, wrote a book with the title, A Prayer for Children which was published in 1995.
Since then Hughs’s poem has been re-printed numerous times in venues all around the world. In addition, many wannabe poets have revised it to their own tastes or needs. The original poem (in addition to the many adaptations) has been re-printed frequently - especially in UNICEF publications and in Marian Wright Edelman’s Children’s Defense Fund publications.
When I first came across the poem I was also moved to expand on it a bit, partly to encourage the Christian peace organization, Every Church A Peace Church, to make use of the poem in its seemingly failed efforts to convince organized Christianity to focus, as did the original form of Christianity, on Sermon on the Mount ethics, the Golden Rule and active nonviolent resistance to Christian participation in the violence of nationalistic militarism, racism and economic oppression, realities that largely affect children and their mothers.
So, in this current deteriorating atmosphere of childhood poverty and malnutrition in America; massive childhood exposure to age-inappropriate media violence, sexuality and pornography; the epidemic of neurotoxic drugs like Ritalin, Adderall, antidepressant and antipsychotic drug poisoning of little children’s brains and bodies; clergy sexual abuse of children (and not just Roman Catholic clergymen); and children and adolescent warrior/killers in war-torn areas all around the globe that are resulting in starving, physically wounded, psychically traumatized, spiritually dead, homeless ones whose futures are being devastated by violence and indifference, I respectfully submit my attempt to embellish Ina Hughs’s powerful and poignant poem. (The original version can be read at http://www.lns.cornell.edu/~seb/prayer-for-children.html.)
The poem is followed by a list of sobering American statistics from a decade ago. Read these statistics knowing that many of them are actually worse than was the reality back then.
The Prayer/Pledge of Responsibility for Children
By Gary G. Kohls
(with apologies to Ina J. Hughs, from whose 1995 book, A Prayer for Children, this poem was adapted)
We pray (and accept responsibility) for children who sneak popsicles before supper, who erase holes in math workbooks and who can never find their shoes.
But do we accept responsibility for those children who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
who can’t bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers, who never counted “this little piggy” on their toes, who were born in places we wouldn’t be caught dead in, who will never get a chance to go to the circus
and who live in an X-rated world?
We readily accept responsibility for children who bring us sticky kisses and fistfulls of dandelions, who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money. But do we also accept responsibility for those children who never get dessert, who have no blankets to drag behind them, who watch their parents watch them die, who don’t have any bread even to steal, who don’t have a room to clean up, whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser and whose monsters are real?
We readily accept responsibility for children who spend all their allowance before Tuesday who throw tantrums in overstocked grocery stores but pick at their food, who like ghost stories and never have enough toys,
who get visits from the tooth fairy,
who don’t like to be kissed in front of the carpool, who squirm in church and scream on the phone, whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry.
But do we also accept responsibility for those children whose suffering should make us cry, whose nightmares come in the daytime, who will eat anything, who have never seen a dentist, who aren’t spoiled by anybody, who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep and who live and move - but have no being?
Ethical humans accept responsibility both for the children who want to be carried as well as for those who must.
Ethical humans accept responsibility both for the children that are never given up on as well as for those who have never had a second chance.
And they pray for and/or accept responsibility both for the children
that are smothered with love as well as for those desperate ones who will grab the hand of anyone who will offer it.
What kind of humans are we?
The Grim Statistics of America’s Violence and Suicide Epidemic
by Gary G. Kohls, M.D.
In an average American year:
• 27,000 Americans commit suicide, a disproportionate number of which are gay teens
• 23,000 are murdered
• 85,000 are wounded by firearms, with 38,000 dying from the wounds
• 13,000,000 are victims of violent crime
• 6,500,000 use illegal hard drugs on a regular basis
• 5,000 die from illicit drug use
• 1,000 children die from sniffing toxic substances, many thousands more suffering permanent damage to their brains
• 31,450,000 use marijuana regularly; 3,000,000 of them are heavy users
• 37,000,000 (1/6 of all Americans) regularly take psychotropic (mood altering) drugs
• 2,000,000 non-hospitalized persons are given anti-psychotic drugs
• 5,000 die from psychoactive drug side effects
• 600 - 1000 receive lobotomies
• 200,000 receive electroshock therapy
• 180,000 die from adverse reactions from medical treatments
• 14,000 die from overdoses of legal prescription drugs
• 126,000 are born with a major birth defect, most of which are caused by industrial chemical toxins, drugs or malnutrition
• 2,900,000 children are reported to be victims of serious neglect, abuse, torture or deliberate starvation; however, most such childhood violence is never reported
• 5,000 children are killed by parents or grandparents
• 30,000 are left permanently disabled from abuse and neglect
• 1,000,000 children run away from home mostly because of abuse
• Battered children and women, raped women, missing children, unidentified dead children number in the hundreds of thousands and represent an epidemic of domestic violence
• 60,000 die because of toxic environmental pollutants or industrial contaminants in food, water or air
• 5,100,000 are in prison, on probation or are on parole; 2,700,000 currently locked up. Each week 1,600 more enter prison each week than leave
• 1,000,000 children are kept in orphanages, reformatories and adult prisons, with institutional abuses common
• 950,000 school children are treated with amphetamine-types drugs for ADHD
• 4,500,000 children suffer from malnutrition, many of whom suffer brain damage
• 40,000,000 persons have been sexually molested as children most between age 9 and 12
• 32,000,000 are chronically under- or unemployed, suffering malnutrition, inadequate health and dental care, inadequate or unsafe housing and poor educational and employment training opportunities for the children
• 80,000,000 live on incomes below the “comfort” level, 35,000,000 below the poverty level
• 2,000,000 are homeless, forced to live on the streets or in makeshift shelters
• 160,000,000 are members of households that are in debt, the majority of which have borrowed money not for luxuries, but for necessities