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Justice for Rizpah’s children

Rev. Dr. Marilyn Turner-Triplett

October 11, 2018

To be poor to me means Passing Over Opportunities Repeatedly. I don’t consider myself poor because I have a lot from my family and people in my community. I know they care about me and will help me succeed. . . . Part of why I think kids don’t do well is because you [adults] set your expectations too low. —Vincent, 11th grade, Cleveland, Ohio, 2009

These words, uttered by a young man named Vincent, are scribbled in one of the many notebooks I’ve collected while talking with audiences throughout the United States and Puerto Rico about issues of childhood poverty in our nation. I never recorded Vincent’s last name, and I’m not sure how it happened that we were speaking. But his words, his self-assurance, and his challenge to adults have remained with me. Today, 21 percent of American children live in families with incomes falling below the federal poverty threshold; Vincent was one of them. Yet his beautifully resilient spirit refused to be limited by finances or stereotypic assumptions about his value and potential.

Despite any economic challenges Vincent and his family may have been encountering, Vincent expressed a profound sense of self. His words bore witness to his conviction that he was surrounded by a healthy network of supporters. Evidently there were people in Vincent’s life who had reminded him that he was more than his life circumstances. He was surrounded by a community that made it clear that he was expected to become more than the statistics about young men living in his zip code. His family and this community were ensuring that Vincent had a bed to sleep in, understood and completed his homework assignments, was exposed to positive role models, had nutritious meals, and received adequate health care. Someone valued Vincent and made certain that he understood he can make positive contributions to society. As a result, Vincent knew that he was not alone and was in relationship with his family and community. Vincent is evidence that the African proverb is true: “It takes a village to raise a child.”

I don’t know what became of Vincent or his village, but my spirit has turned to them often in prayer. And over the course of the years, my heart has been broken over the many children in our nation who are not as fortunate as Vincent. And with almost 16 million living at the federal poverty threshold, there can be no doubt that this nation can and should be doing more on behalf of the children. Childhood poverty is an epidemic that is consuming our nation, yet we seem content to exist in a state of denial about its virulent and destructive nature. Perhaps the complexities of poverty are sufficiently overwhelming that many choose to proceed with great caution. But these are times when an overabundance of caution becomes benign malevolence. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it best, “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.”

Childhood poverty is an epidemic that is consuming our nation, yet we seem content to exist in a state of denial about its virulent and destructive nature.

Childhood poverty is an epidemic that is consuming our nation, yet we seem content to exist in a state of denial about its virulent and destructive nature.

The scourge of childhood poverty is not only impacting families and communities; it hinders this nation’s ability to compete in the future. When our children thrive, we thrive; when they fail, we fail. In Justice for Rizpah’s Children, you will encounter evidence that coming of age while living in poverty is an immense threat to robust childhood development. But you’ll also see proof that we can be effective in halting the march of childhood poverty. Studies have proven that early long-term investments of time and caring in the lives of low-income children produce tangible social and economic results.1 Furthermore, economist and Nobel Prize winner James Heckman challenges our nation to improve the economic prosperity of the United States by striving for improved living conditions and better life outcomes for our children.2 If Jesus’ caution against “forbidding” children access to the abundance of life (Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16) is insufficient to serve as a call to action on behalf of children, perhaps the awareness that it makes economic sense will suffice.

Now is a good time to break free of the stupor of complacency and take courageous stances like Rizpah, the Old Testament concubine of Saul. Rizpah’s efforts on behalf of her two slain children and the five slain children of another mother attracted the attention of a king, brought justice for the children, and halted the famine marching across the land. We need to engage in the kinds of actions that will yield similar results.

The Rev. Dr. Marilyn Turner-Triplet is director, Rizpah’s Children and Community Ministries, American Baptist Home Mission Societies. Excerpted from Justice for Rizpah’s Children: Radical Responses to Childhood Poverty by Marilyn Turner-Triplett, copyright © 2018 by Judson Press. Available in stores/online November 15, 2018. Used by permission of Judson Press, 800-4-JUDSON,

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

  1. Eric Westervelt, “How Investing in Preschool Beats the Stock Market, Hands Down,” NPR Ed, December 12, 2016,, accessed July 14, 2016.
  2. Paul Nyhan, “Balance the Budget by Investing in Early Learning, Nobel Prize Winning Economist Says,” November 22, 2010, Thrive Washington,, accessed July 14, 2018.

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