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Last Friday, we released the printed version of our 2016 Data Bulletin at the annual County Legislative Breakfast on Children and Youth.

This year, as we worked on the Bulletin, we kept this question in mind: What does the data mean? In introducing the Bulletin on Friday, I tried to answer that question from my own perspective. Here are my remarks:

***

People often ask me where I come from.  I happen to be born and raised in New Jersey, which most people know as the land of Bruce Springsteen, Chris Christie and 24 hour diners.  My parents chose to raise us in a quaint little town formed before the Revolutionary War, population around 15,000 or so.  Church with steeple, check.  Sweet shop, check.  It was, and in many ways still is, Mayberry in real life.

For a long time, I would get together with my friends at the Memorial Day Parade.  It was the biggest annual event in town, and everybody would come out onto the streets and watch the floats go by.  The Girl and Boy Scouts would throw candy into the crowds and little kids would pick them off the street and eat them.  What better way to build your immune system right?  And my friends and I would ask ourselves, is this a one year or a two year?

Meaning, how many people of color would be marching in the parade?  Usually there was enough to count with  one hand, but on occasional years there would be just enough to get to two.

So when my husband and I were looking for places to live, it was important for both of us that we lived in a diverse community where we wouldn’t be automatically treated as curiosities.  And we found that place in Westchester.

Unfortunately, diversity seems to come at a price.  And that price is inequity.

If there’s a theme for this year’s data bulletin, it is this:  in Westchester County, one of the richest and most educated counties in the nation, we see jaw dropping inequality.  There is evidence that race, location, and even gender, play too strong a role in a child’s success.  Despite our well-intentioned efforts, the playing field remains dangerously uneven, tripping even the most nimble children who are burdened by circumstances beyond their control, and undermining the success of those who are fortunate enough to find a patch of grass even enough to stand on.

I say that because it is difficult to accept the success that you have when you feel the game’s been rigged.  I personally struggle with this question:  if I wasn’t born of two parents who both pursued education past college, if I wasn’t Asian, if I wasn’t raised in a school district populated by fellow students that thought that college was an educational obligation, not an option that was financially and culturally out of reach, would I be here today?  In other words, if the odds were stacked against me, would I have made it?  I would like to think that I would have had the fortitude to do so, but I’m not really sure.  It is a question that rests on the minds of others – and if it doesn’t, well frankly it should.

Raw numbers will NEVER tell you the complete story.

Raw numbers will never tell you that what is often a given for many people, for example, high school graduation, is often a true accomplishment and a testament of grit and persistence for those who are unfortunate enough to be on the other side of the odds.  Numbers by themselves will never tell you if an increase in prescription drugs is a statistical blip (which is another data point we feature in the data bulletin, by the way), an indication of a better reporting system, or an unnerving trend in the way physicians handle psychotropic drugs.  Numbers cannot bear the weight of the entire story, it’s up to us to write the narrative, to draw the connections, and to compel action.

The data bulletin is merely a tool.

The data bulletin doesn’t answer questions, but it raises them.  And if you could reduce all those questions into one word the word would be this:  WHY?

  • Why do our children still struggle with the burdens of yesterday?
  • Why, despite the good intentions and the good people in the room, are we still having this conversation about inequality and injustice in the first place?
  • Why is it still so unfair?  And what can we do to change that?

And as child advocates, we should be relentless in pursuing the answers to those questions.

And so our work continues. Thank you.

***

I should give credit to Lisa Davis, Executive Director of the Westchester Putnam School Boards Association, for reaching out to me as we were preparing this year’s Data Bulletin. We had a thought-provoking conversation that became the foundation for the remarks I made above.

Also thanks to Tara Framer of Tara Framer Design, Anna Wright, and Claudia Yannaco.  These three women, individually and collectively, made this year’s data bulletin a much better publication.

DOWNLOAD THE 2016 CHILDREN BY THE NUMBERS BULLETIN HERE!

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