Reflecting on 2021, I see reasons for hope. The widespread availability of vaccines. A return to in-person learning. An economy that rebounded with record speed due to bold government action.

At the same time, there is cause for grave concern. Tens of millions of children and young people are struggling to recover academically, socially, and emotionally from the pandemic. Tragically, instead of using their power to help children and young people get on track, politicians are passing bans on conversations about race and discrimination that deny children the honest and unbiased understanding of the past they need to create a better future. At the same time, extremists are targeting and harassing school board members, principals, teachers, parents, and even students who want an accurate portrayal of U.S. history with diverse viewpoints.

Public education is the pathway to economic opportunity and the backbone of a healthy democracy.

That is why we must stand together against the politicians, media moguls, and ultra-wealthy political donors who are stirring up fear and hate and conspiring to make public education a political battleground at the expense of our children’s learning and well-being.

And it is why, together, we must continue to use our collective voice and votes to ensure that politicians at all levels do everything possible to protect and strengthen public education, support children and families’ well-being, and reduce the prevalence of racism and the harm it does to us all.

We are deeply grateful for your partnership and support, and we hope you will continue to stand with us in 2022.

I still remember how it felt to be at the first Stand for Children rally on June 1, 1996.

I covered the event as a teenage reporter, so my job was to interview other young people and adults who had traveled all across the country to gather in Washington D.C. that beautiful summer day.

There’s one particular story I keep in my head: There was an older woman with her own folding chair who opened it up under a tree on the side of the National Mall and sat down. After she got situated, I went over and asked her why she was there. She was with her young granddaughter, and she said that she had traveled all the way from the Midwest to be a voice for her grandchildren. 

As I navigated through the crowd speaking to others who attended that day, I never imagined that 25 years later, I’d still have the privilege of telling the stories of Stand families and children who are fighting for a better life and education.

To be at Stand now and continuing to find spaces to amplify the voices — not only of young people, but of our communities, of people who at one point or another have been told their voices don’t matter — is a great honor, especially as someone who sees her own story reflected in the families we serve.

Whether you have been with Stand since day one or since a few days ago, I want to say thank you. Your enduring support, determination and generosity are making a difference for families and children.

JoI Johnson (left) canvasses with a fellow Stand student volunteer during a recent election. JoI organized and led the student canvassing team.
JoI Johnson (left) canvasses with a fellow Stand student volunteer during a recent election. JoI organized and led the student canvassing team.

I believe students deserve a say in their education. That’s why I joined Stand for Children in 10th grade and started going to school board meetings, writing local government leaders, and organizing other students in the community to get involved, too.

When you support Stand, you support students like me who are working to be leaders in their community and give back.

Last month, I graduated salutatorian from my high school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and this fall, I’ll be attending Miles College in Fairfield, Alabama on a full presidential academic scholarship. My plan is to study political science and criminal justice, go to law school, then become a district attorney. My goal is to bring justice to people who are deprived of it.

I see what happens when students and families are excluded from the conversation. I know I have that voice that can go across the whole world, and I am going to keep standing up, speaking up and making a difference for children and families.

I’m grateful for the leadership and advocacy experience I gained with Stand, and I’m glad to know students who come after me can benefit from the same opportunities — with your support.

Twenty-five years ago today, on June 1, 1996, 300,000 people stood together for children at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. 

What began as an historic rally has become a bold and vital organization impacting the education and lives of children furthest from justice across the nation.

Stand for Children’s 25th anniversary comes at a time of unique possibility to make progress toward racial and social justice.

For the rest of our lives, we may never have a better chance to reduce child poverty, increase economic mobility, root out individual and systemic racism, and close our nation’s racial wealth chasm. 

Stand is passionately committed to seizing this opportunity to achieve lasting positive changes for children, for families, and for society as a whole. 

We know you are, too, and look forward to standing strong together in the crucial weeks and months ahead.

Thank you for doing all you can, in every facet of your life, to meet this moment.

It’s hard not to feel exhausted right now. All of us are nearly two years into this seemingly endless pandemic, which has not only taken the lives of more than 840,000 Americans but has also exposed the undeniable racial and economic inequalities that riddle our society.

I understand if you’re tired — if you want to disengage, to stop reading depressing and infuriating news stories, to stop speaking up when you see injustices because the stream of distress and grief feels never-ending. I get it.

Change can feel impossible, but I’ve seen firsthand through our work at Stand for Children that it’s not. In the last year alone, Stand volunteers organized parents, testified at school board meetings, knocked on doors, called and texted voters, and did whatever necessary to secure better futures for their children and others in their community. Stand families didn’t give up because they knew it wasn’t an option.

This is how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy lives on. Dr. King set the example for refusing to give up. He knew progress was possible, and he proved it’s only achievable when you step up and do the daunting work instead of relying on others to carry that responsibility.

Stand has always sought to achieve high-quality education opportunities for all kids, but we recognize, as we always have, that there’s more to ensuring generations of families have equal opportunities to succeed. Systemic racism infects beyond the classroom. That’s why we have updated our mission to explicitly name who we are and what we are fighting for.

From the federal level to the family level, we use every tool available to fight for outcomes that enrich the lives of students and their families. That includes:

  • advocating for increased education funding generally and specifically to increase high school graduation rates and young people’s readiness for college and career
  • partnering with more than 140 high schools in six states to boost graduation rates through the Center for High School Success and helping educators identify antiracist curriculum and build antiracist teaching through the Center for Antiracist Education, and
  • reducing the reach and the harm of the criminal legal system by advocating to eliminate youth justice system fines and fees.

The solutions we champion are backed by evidence and the true experts — the parents, educators and others who are directly affected by the problems at hand.

We are all living through an unimaginable time. Every day feels like a new mountain to climb. But let Dr. King’s words manifest brighter horizons: “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”

Join us in this struggle. Keep standing with the families who refuse to give up. And know you will not be alone on this journey for change.