Children and the Fight for Social Justice

Children-and-the-Fight-for-Social-JusticeThe Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton introduces the remarkable story of how children helped amplify the tide of the civil rights movement. This book is sure to impress young readers with an understanding that even children can stand up for what is right. Kids can work for social justice in ways both large and public as well as small and personal.


Kids can work for social justice in ways both large and public as well as small and personal. Click To Tweet

The social justice movement dominates the news lately. Kids certainly hear the reports and discussions. Some children may feel fearful and powerless. Others may yearn to make a difference, to participate in the solution-making process. Most will probably assume that they can’t do anything because they’re young. This push and pull between the call to action and feeling constrained will frustrate and distress them.

But Audrey’s story shows them that their assumption is false. Children can do something to effect change and to shine a light into the dark corners of society. The courage and righteous indignation of children can often awaken reluctant adults to take action. In a case like the Birmingham Children’s March, children acted when the potential cost to families–job loss, eviction, beatings– prevented adults from acting.

The courage and righteous indignation of children can often awaken reluctant adults to take action. Click To Tweet

Newton’s illustrations and Levinson’s text depict the privations and insults of segregation in powerful and revealing ways: the dirty fountains, the humiliating trek to the back of the bus, being relegated to the freight elevator instead of the passenger elevator used by whites, etc. Kids will feel Audrey’s humiliations and understand her reactions.

Audrey embodies the earnestness, purity of heart and trust of a child raised with faith, love and, respect.  She listens to the words of the famous civil rights leaders who dine at her family’s table. They share food, friendship and, a mission. Audrey takes their words to to heart. In spite of her fear, she takes action and responds with courage.

The story depicts  Audrey’s jail experience effectively yet without overly frightening young readers. The sense of loneliness, hunger, privation come across. One illustration which spreads across two pages, depicts the first time Audrey speaks to a white man. A group of them tower over her and spew questions: “Are you against America? … Why do you march?”

Audrey’s honest response: “To go places and do things like everybody else.” Young readers will understand Audrey’s stance. Kids believe in fairness; they lobby for it regularly. Their protestations start at home where they want to ensure that they and their siblings get equal treatment (and yes, the same “stuff” too.) Eventually, they expand their horizons to include friends, classmates, etc.

Most kids would be horrified at the thought of risking jail but they can understand less shocking and dramatic ways to stand up for right like standing up to the class bully or befriending the new student in class. The Youngest Marcher can open many important conversations about civil rights, respect and equality. Click To Tweet

Children and the Fight for Social JusticeAdoption-attuned* Lens This story can offer an easy way to introduce discussions about fundamental equality and universal rights. Most adoptees encounter instances where people imply that their family isn’t quite as “real”  as families exclusively built through adoption. Trans-racially and trans-culturally adopted children may feel a particular resonance with the struggle for equality.