As America’s pediatricians gathered here in Washington, D.C., this weekend, they were hailed as heroes, they were congratulated for a job well done and they braced for the challenges of these times. And they were reminded that the country’s future, literally and figuratively, is in their hands.
The American Academy of Pediatrics annual National Conference and Exhibition has taken over large chunks of the Washington Convention Center and about 1,500 of the country’s kiddie docs were in a ballroom this chilly, drizzly Saturday morning to hear keynote speaker Alma Powell, chair of America’s Promise. She pulled no punches, thanking the doctors for their hard work and urging them to do more.
As if their responsibilities for keeping kids well weren’t big enough, Powell said the doctors needed to remember that children are our national security and our economic development.
“If our children are unprepared for life, our national security is at risk and our ability to compete in the global economy is at risk,” she said.
Powell explained that her organization, begun a dozen years ago, is one of partnerships — like pediatricians are partners with parents and pediatric specialists like those at Cincinnati Children’s are partners with community pediatricians. She said her village — as in “it takes a village” to raise a child” – is made up of more than 350 partners in every state and each of the 40 largest cities in the country.
The promises of America’s Promise are developmental resources — “wrap-around supports,” in the words of its Web site — that young people need for success in life:
Powell said one of the biggest challenges facing the children — and caregivers, and the country — is the high rate of high-school dropouts. One in three students in the United States does not graduate from high school, she said. That is a shame. Perhaps worse, it is a global embarassment. Poor literacy skills threaten the country, she said; one state uses third-grade reading levels to help predict the number of prison cells it needs to build.
As the pediatricians sat in the ballroom, huge video screens hanging from the ceiling, Powell told them sad stories. And she told them stories of hope. She said the answer is what they call “the power of we.”
According to lore, members of the Masai tribe of Africa would greet one another with the expression, “And how are the children?”
“Until we can answer that positively,” Powell told the doctors, “we have work to do. Our future depends on it.”
We stood enmasse and applauded! Count us in.