This Monday will be the 25th anniversary of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday. As we honor the memory and the spirit of Dr. King, I’ve been thinking about how CASA/GAL volunteers carry on his legacy of seeking equal rights under the law.
In the United States, a generation generally spans 25 years. That means that the responsibility of leadership on civil rights has only recently passed to a new generation. The struggle for civil rights will take a very different form for this new generation than it did 25 years ago. But just as it did then, today’s fight for civil rights continues to have a transformative impact on individuals in this country.
The current civil rights battlegrounds include areas such as the right to access to health care and the right to a basic education for every American child. Children also have an indisputable right to be loved and cared for; to learn and grow and become the people they are destined to be. Yet right now in America, over 400,000 children experience a foster care system that, despite the best efforts of many well-meaning adults, often jeopardizes the basic rights every child in America should enjoy. Too many children are left to fend for themselves in the system, with no one to stand up for their best interests. Too many young adults enter adulthood without the support or the tools they need to succeed. This is not just an issue of abuse or neglect, or of a broken system, but of the inalienable rights of a child.
We can make a difference in the lives of these children. CASA volunteers can fundamentally alter the trajectory of that young person’s life. The presence of CASA volunteers will change who they are as adults, as parents, and as a new generation of citizens. Their involvement changes the path of future generations who will walk in the footsteps of children in the system today. So in this way, CASA volunteers are truly changing society—one child, one voice, one path at a time.
In the memory of Dr. King, let us keep working to create a more perfect union by guaranteeing that every child in this country is guaranteed safe passage into adulthood. We should be proud of our progress, but we should also understand the size of the task still ahead of us. In 1967, Dr. King spoke to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference about the concept of “divine dissatisfaction”—that we should not rest and should not be satisfied until justice has come for every single person in America. In that spirit, then, let us continue to be dissatisfied—until that day when every child is able to fulfill her or his destiny, to learn, to thrive, and to assume the mantle of leadership in their time.