I am a writer; I am a reader; I am a thinker; and I am a listener. Sometimes I hear things that disturb me. I hear now a whisper that is on the wind, and it says, “Despair the children.” Voices rustling like dry leaves spread rumors that the children have somehow sinned, and the wind echoes, “Despair.” Flapping night birds screech a song of drugs, and the wind echoes, “Despair.” Despair is the song and the chorus; “Despair,” people are saying, “for the children are gone.”
But the children are not gone, nor will they go, no matter how hard we try to push them beyond the age of consciousness or beyond the blurred age of caring vision. They will be here. And we must want them here. What I must do, what we all must do, is to resist the temptation to turn away from the children when they are troubled. We must not recognize the wholeness or the wellness of a society that does not celebrate its children — all of its children. Let us celebrate the children.
Let us understand that the children are the result of what we are; they are our history; and they are what we hope to be — they are our future. If perhaps in the past our love has been too undemanding, let us sharpen it with our reason — and we have reason. If our love has become too soft, let us harden it in the concrete of our ideals. But let us celebrate our children.
Let us spin mysteries for their minds and wonders for their hearts; let us love them with a fierce, unyielding love. Let us be warriors for them; let us anoint them with hosannas. Let us gather the children from all the cold streets of the world — from Beijing to Paris — and hold them against our bosoms. Let us parade them down the glad streets of our own lives, sprinkling hallelujahs in their paths, marking their rhythms with flute songs and tambourines. Let the gospel choir sing praises unto them, and the saints of God feed them kola nuts and honey. Let us lift them to the dark, starry skies, and name them glorious and wonderful again. Let us celebrate the children.
Let us celebrate all the children — the singers and the silent, the brave and the frightened, the newly born and the fallen angels. Those who hold their pain and silent grief, and those who rage it back at us. Let’s listen for Chopin in their laughter, and see the flights of Coltrane in their play. Let us hear the questions in their tears, and let us hear them with our hearts. Let us bring them endless compassion, and let that compassion be forever hard edged and watchful. In the beginning, let us celebrate the children and bring them peace, and, in the end, let us celebrate the children and bring them peace.
Adapted from the author’s acceptance speech for the 1989 Coretta Scott King Award for text, for Fallen Angels (Scholastic), delivered at the American Library Association conference on June 27, 1989. From the January/February 1990 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
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