By Marc H. Morial
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1937
Broadcasting from a refugee camp in Sudan on Christmas day in 1985, Comic Relief U.K., the British charity behind Red Nose Day, spearheaded a fundraising phenomena that, decades later, continues to chip away at the global childhood poverty rate and has made its symbol, a clown-style red nose, a popular, poverty-fighting fashion accessory.
The telethon was started by comedians who believed they could raise awareness and money, with the help of mass media and celebrities, to change and save the lives of children living in poverty in the United Kingdom and abroad. Since its first televised broadcast, Red Nose Day has raised more than $1 billion in donations for organizations dedicated to eradicating poverty—and for the first time in the event’s long and successful history—Americans have been invited to put on red noses and assist in the widespread effort to transform the lives of children living in poverty globally, and across our nation.
One in five children in the United States live in households with incomes below the assigned federal poverty level—$23,550 a year for a family of four. Not surprisingly, our nation’s tremendous child poverty rates are highest among its most vulnerable citizens: Black, Hispanic and American Indian children. Analyzing the plague of childhood poverty through a global lens, the numbers are far more devastating. Of the estimated 2.2 billion children living in the world, 1 billion—one out of every two children in the world—lives in poverty.
No matter what continent, country or community you call home, growing up in a poor family does not happen by chance, which means defeating childhood poverty will not happen without employing targeted, effective strategies.
For our longstanding work with at-risk youth through our signature Urban Youth Empowerment Program, the National Urban League has been recognized and selected as one of 12 U.S. based poverty-fighting charities to benefit from Red Nose Day’s television fundraising event. The money raised will be used to fund programs—like ours—that address the immediate needs of children and young people living in poverty in the U.S. and internationally in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Our Urban Youth Empowerment Program is a powerful example of work already being done to change the lives of young people by providing them with opportunities through life skills training, education, mentorship, internships and on-the-job training—all strategies research and experience tells us can help lift the most vulnerable from a life mired in poverty.
Through our work, we have impacted and improved the lives of more than 2 million young people and adults annually through direct service programs implemented by 94 Urban League affiliates—serving 300 communities in 36 states and the District of Columbia. With the continued help of our donors, and our new partnership with Red Nose Day, we will continue to empower youth and impact and improve thousands more lives in hard-hit communities.
Red Nose Day will cross the proverbial pond and land on our shores in a live, star-studded special, airing Thursday, May 21 (8-11 p.m. EDT) live on NBC. The three-hour benefit promises A-list artists from the worlds of film, television, comedy and music for a night of entertainment for an important cause—a cause you can join today.
Anyone and everyone can—and must—play a part in the struggle to eradicate childhood poverty around the world. Mark the telethon on your calendar as appointment television; organize your own fundraising event for Red Nose Day; or walk into your local Walgreens or Duane Reade and do your part by buying a red nose.
The red noses are the official symbol of the movement and would become a symbol of your commitment to make a difference. Wear your nose to support the cause. Wear your nose to inspire others—“because the more you nose, the more you help.”
Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.