Why “Normal” Was Never Enough

We’ve been hearing it for the past year. 

“I can’t wait until things go back to normal.” 

On the surface, we all agree that it would be fantastic. No masks. Hugging our friends. Family dinners. Kids back in school. However, we need to face one reality as we look forward – normal wasn’t and isn’t good enough for everybody. Especially for children from our BIPOC communities

For example, in 2018, it was normal for 15% of Black babies to be born with low birth weight (under ~5.5 pounds) compared to 6% of White babies. 

Birth weight disparities

Babies born over 2.5kg (~5.5lbs) are much more likely to be ready for school by kindergarten than those born under 2.5kg (Janus & Duku, 2007). Other studies find similar conclusions that low birth weight and preterm births are strongly associated with lack of school readiness, particularly in early literacy development and math (Reichman, 2005). Riechman also highlights the disproportionate rates of preterm births and low birth weight among African Americans and women in lower-income households. 

Even before COVID, it was normal that 53% of White children that were assessed using the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment were found to be ready for Kindergarten. That’s compared to only 22% of Black children and 25% of Latinx children. One of KConnect’s Success Measures is Kindergarten Readiness. We stand by the idea that if a student is born healthy, is developmentally on track, and has access to equitable and affordable preschool opportunities, they will be more likely to demonstrate the skills needed to be considered ready for Kindergarten. Students who are ready for Kindergarten are more likely to be successful during their school career and beyond, which is why we consider it a foundational measurement.

In 2019, White families made, on average, $87,492 a year. Black families made significantly less with a median annual income of $45,670. Latinx families made slightly more with an average income of $52,194. Why is there such a disparity? Read more about the wealth gap from Anti-Racism Daily here.

Finally, it was normal in 2020 that while only 28.8% of White families were eligible for free and reduced lunch, a staggering 84.6% and 80.3% of African American and Latinx, respectively, were eligible. This reinforces the above data that indicates that White families are making significantly more per year than Black and Latinx communities. 

KConnect has a myriad of data points that all point to the same thing – “normal” was never good enough for everyone. (For more information on our publicly-available data, visit our dashboard.) 

As we begin preparing for a post-COVID world, how can we improve outcomes for underrepresented children and families in our community? 

  1. Educate and inform your networks about the racialized disparities in order to create a collective movement toward improving outcomes
  2. Advocate for children and families with local policymakers to positively change policies that impact Grand Rapids, Kent County, and the state of Michigan. 
  3. Partner with local organizations working with children of color 

Use this opportunity to redesign what normal looks like for ALL families in our community. It’s time to come together to create an equitable system – join us to work towards a brighter future.

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