By: Marian Wright Edelman
On November 4, 2009, about 4,000 babies in strollers, young children, parents, youths, teachers, child care providers, doctors, and grandparents rallied and strolled all around our U.S. Capitol. We told Congress that millions of children must not be left worse off after health reform and that the effective and cost effective Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) should be kept and improved rather than eliminated as the House health reform bill would do.
Among the very moving speakers was Rev. Dr. Ray Hammond from Boston, founder of the Boston Ten Point Coalition and co-Pastor with his wife, Rev. Dr. Gloria Hammond, of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He brought with him and shared the wonderful story of his beautiful and fortunate granddaughter Ella.
“Good morning! And would everybody say ‘Good morning, Ella.’ Ella’s feeling a little shy and a little bit tired because we got up at 3:30 this morning to come and be at this rally in Washington all the way from Boston but we were not going to miss this! I’m here because I’m a pastor and a physician and this issue of child health care is near and dear to my heart. And Ella’s here because her story tells us why equity in health care is so important. This little girl that you’re looking at was in a very different place three years ago when she was born.
“She was born to my youngest daughter four months premature and she came into the world at the weight of one-and-a-half pounds. In those first few days and weeks she fought for her life. She fought against large bleeds on both sides of her brain, a cardiac problem that required surgery. She had eye problems that made it almost impossible for her to see. She had a gastrointestinal infection that made it necessary for her to be isolated from the other babies.
“It was one battle after another and often we had several battles going on at the same time. And I remember that day when the doctor and the nurse and the social worker called our whole family into the conference room and they said, ‘We just want to let you know that Ella will probably have trouble walking, or she may have trouble using her arms, or she may not be able to control her emotions very well, or she may be partially blind, or she may have other kinds of trouble.’ They told us it was less than a 10% chance that she would grow up to be healthy and normal. And I still remember the tears and the prayers and the long days and the longer nights that we spent.
“I remember when we finally were able to take her home. I remember when we were able to put her into an early intervention program and I thank God for the day that they kicked her out of that program—I hope that’s the first and the last time that she’s ever kicked out of an educational program—but they put her out because she was doing too well. That’s a real blessing.”
He continued, “As a man of faith I am so grateful to God for the people who prayed for us and prayed with us and for the dedicated team of doctors and nurses and professionals who cared for Ella through four long months, but as a man of faith I am also deeply troubled that the result might have been very different if my daughter had not had excellent prenatal care and if her insurance had not made it possible for Ella to get treatment that cost several hundred thousand dollars without leaving our family bankrupt. And I want every child in America to have the same opportunity for a good life, a full life, and a healthy life.
I love this country, and I don’t love it just for its amber waves of grain or its purple mountains’ majesty, or its democracy or its opportunities. When I say, ‘I love this country,’ it means I love the people in this country, and especially its children! That’s what it means to love your country! And I love the fact that their ancestors and they come from every country and every corner of this world. I love the fact that we’re a rainbow of colors and a riot of cultures.
And I love them enough to want each and every one of them to have the same things that my family has. And so that’s why all of us together, right here and then in Congress, we’re gonna ask them to do three things. Tell your neighbor, ‘Three things.’ Tell another neighbor, ‘Three things!’ We want ‘em to tear down the iron curtain that keeps six million children from being able to get the same insurance through CHIP or Medicaid that they’ve already qualified for. Somebody say, ‘Yes!’ We wanna guarantee every child access to all of the health services that they need and I don’t care whether they’ve got Medicaid or they’ve got CHIP or they’ve got private insurance or they’ve got the insurance that our elected representatives get. Every child’s life counts!
Last thing we want—tell your neighbor, ‘Get rid of the jigsaw puzzle!’ You go from one state to the next, and in one state a child is covered and in the next state the child is not covered. That’s not right! Here’s what we want: We really want every child to have access. And we don’t want our children to be collateral damage while we fix our health care system. That means we want an America where every child, no matter their race, their class, or their ethnic background has access to a healthy start. It’s the least we can do in this one nation under God.
Now when we leave here, Ella and I are gonna go talk to our Senators and our Representatives like many of you, and what are we gonna ask for, Ella? Great care for God’s kids. Great care for God’s kids!”
Amen, Rev. Hammond and Ella!
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.