For months now, we have witnessed moments that will be forever etched into our collective consciousness and history. Even more recently, we saw an assault on the very heart of our democracy, followed by a strikingly resilient Congress committed to resume their Constitutional duties before the day had even ended, laboring well into the wee hours of the next morning to certify a free and fair election.
And now a remarkable week comes to an end.
At long last, we finally acknowledged the 400,000 American souls lost to a brutal pandemic with a breathtaking display of lights along the Lincoln Memorial’s reflecting pool. We heard a newly sworn President Joe Biden issue a clarion call for unity, fairness, equity and diversity. And we saw that call backed up with actions including the swearing in of Kamala Harris as Vice President and the appointment of a diverse group of leaders to White House positions reflecting the rich diversity of talent and excellence this country has to offer.
This week’s inauguration was like nothing we’ve seen before – an unfortunate reflection of a new normal – masks covering faces, military patrols and razor-wired fence lining the streets.
But we saw the promise of other “new normals” breaking through too.
Like the power of unrestrained potential in the sun-lit face of the nation’s first Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman. The 22 year-old, self-described “skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother” recited her moving work “The Hill We Climb,” where she pleads for a nation to move forward and “compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man,” reminding us that we are “a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.”
Or hearing a President and a Vice President commit to serving all Americans, regardless of their vote, punctuated so beautifully by Vice President Harris’ first tweet (on @VP): “Ready to serve,” signaling a new normal of a government getting to the work of rebuilding our country.
Before the day ended, 17 executive orders were signed. They affirmed the dignity of young immigrants, Muslims and members of the LGBTQ community; restored America’s participation in the global effort to combat COVID-19 and climate change; and called for federal agencies to make “rooting out systemic racism” central to their work, requiring all agencies to report on equity in their ranks within 200 days.
In all of this, we can see how basic human decency and compassion for each other can lift us as a nation.
If nothing else, the week underscores that we have serious work in front of us. This powerful start is refreshing, but it is just a start. The assault on human dignity in our country has been centuries, not years, in the making. It won’t vanish in one administration.
For us, evening the odds and creating opportunities where children and families thrive necessitates engaging in our work differently. We’ll have to come to terms with the ways in which systemic racism, inequal access to resources and waiting for a crisis before providing help are robbing our brothers and sisters of their potential, and that continued negligence is no more sustainable than an unchecked appetite for fossil fuel.
I draw these parallels to our work because the solution is not out there somewhere. It’s not in the White House, the Old Executive Office Building or in the rotunda of the United States Capitol. These are critical supports, but they are not the solution.
Investing in human dignity is something we do across 65 counties and is carried out by more than 900 committed, engaged professionals who hit the ground running every day in an effort to make our world a better place. This is our bailiwick.
We are indeed uniquely poised to end the very real threats to child and family well-being because we are committed to doing the hard work of pushing boundaries and learning from our mistakes. We will do it because—in the words of the indefatigable Amanda Gorman—“we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation,” and that “our blunders become their burdens.”
That young poet—moving presidents, justices and senators to tears—is a powerful reminder of what untapped human potential can do. She helped us all feel like it was a new day, and she was just the salve we needed to begin our own journey to do this work better.
I’m taking a lesson from her: “If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.”
Now it’s our turn. Let’s be ready to serve.
Michael Shaver| President and CEO