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Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles that were shared in partnership with BMe Community’s #BlackMenLove to remind readers of who, what and how deeply black men love during this final weekend of Black Family Month. BMe is a growing network of all races and genders committed to building better communities across the U.S. Share it and read more at BMe Community, or reach out by email. Read the first story here.

“Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord.” —Ephesians 6:7

Imagine a world in which we gave children the love, safety and support they deserve. Imagine how differently our children would see themselves if we treated them as people with potential instead of as problems that need to be handled or fixed.

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Can you imagine the strength of our communities if we praised academic achievements as much as we celebrate and invest in sports and entertainment? What if we saw parents dancing in the stands at debates or academic decathlons, like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s ACT-SO competition, or science fairs the way they dance during games or halftime shows?

Can you imagine a country that provides every child with an opportunity to excel in school and in life? Think of an America in which children are encouraged to have dreams and are supported by the sort of system that helps them make those dreams come true. What if we made academic success the norm for every child in America? What if we made educational excellence the norm for every black child in America?

We can discuss the many reasons that access to opportunity for far too many children of color is predicted by zip code or genetic code. And while I steadfastly work to dismantle the systems that prohibit our children from receiving the foundational support and care they need and deserve, I also challenge us to do what we can right here and right now—that is, to love.

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Loving our children, all of them, is the first step toward supporting the learning and development that is necessary to succeed in life. Love is the foundation upon which we should build every child’s education. Love of self. Love of family and community. Love of education. Love of possibilities. Love of diversity.

Many of our children (and adults) go through life with few affirmations. No children in America should wake up questioning whether someone will be there to value and appreciate them, to love and support them, to encourage and protect them.

Our job is to believe in our children before they even know how to believe in themselves.

As executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans and as a former classroom educator and community organizer, I have had the opportunity to engage with thousands of students. Regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation or geography, every child has noted the invaluable presence of an invested adult in his life. Having a system that actively engages and supports all students in school and in life makes a long-lasting positive impact—an impact that benefits everyone—on individuals, communities and our country. 

African-American education summits—forums developed through a partnership with the Johnson Publishing Co. (publisher of Ebony magazine)—have given me the opportunity to leverage the platform of the White House to provide African-American students with an opportunity to tell their stories and make recommendations for how we can help them feel safe, engaged and supported inside and outside the classroom. Each expert who spoke at these summits, regardless of school attended, neighborhood or age, noted that having love from a parent, teacher or mentor was essential to his or her excelling in life.

Too often, adults believe that children are free of the burdens and stressors that affect the average adult. We can too easily forget that what many children experience would break us. Children, like the adults around them, are affected by the stress of poverty, crime and other factors we consider “adult issues.” Let us be mindful of this; let us treat children as full beings who deserve the same dignity and respect of adults.

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Let us remember that while children may deal with some of the same burdens as adults, they don’t always have the vocabulary or context to best handle those situations. Let us remember that all children, especially the ones whom society deems “troubled,” need and deserve love. Let’s teach the babies to love themselves by loving and supporting them first.

David J. Johns is the executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.