Share this with your friends
PHOTO: Ethel and Julius Rosenberg
by Amber Black, Rosenberg Fund for Children
In 1950, at the height of the McCarthy-era Red Scare, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were arrested and charged with giving the secret of the Atomic Bomb to the Soviet Union. The young couple, left-wing activists who had grown up in poverty on New York City’s Lower East Side, were the parents of two young boys: three-year-old Robert and seven-year-old Michael.
On June 19, 1953, after being convicted in a trial that was later revealed to be rife with prosecutorial misconduct at the highest levels including by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Rosenbergs were executed amidst worldwide protest.
Their fate was intended by the authorities to send a chilling message to progressives, especially those with families, that dissent equals treason and resistance can have dire consequences.
Sixty years later, those who are rallying against our government’s war-making abroad and repression at home, are facing a similar climate; peace activists resisting grand jury witch hunts, to Chelsea Manning exposing U.S. war crimes, to prisoners hunger striking to protest torture, to workers organizing against Wal-Mart’s labor practices to the many who are fighting for social and economic justice facing harsh consequences meant to silence their voices and discourage others.
Those who speak out are condemned as “traitors” and treated as enemies of the state. For activists who have families, these conditions are especially treacherous; their children pay a severe price when the parents are attacked for their organizing efforts.
These tactics are familiar to anyone who lived through the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950’s. After the Rosenbergs’ arrests, their orphaned sons’ relatives were so frightened of being associated with “communist spies” that they refused to take the boys into their homes. First, Robert and Michael lived in a shelter. Later, they lived with friends of their parents in New Jersey, but were thrown out of school after the Board of Education found out who they were. After their parents’ execution, the police even seized the boys from the home of their future adoptive parents, Anne and Abel Meeropol (whose last name they now share), and placed them in an orphanage.
Bad as this was, it could have been much worse. As Robert Meeropol grew older, he came to realize the debt he owed to the thousands of generous individuals whom he never met, but who rallied to support the boys. As a result of the collective efforts and generosity of these principled people, Michael and Robert grew up in a loving household and flourished in the supportive environment provided by child-oriented progressive institutions.
In 1990 Robert Meeropol figured out a way to repay the community that helped him survive. He started the Rosenberg Fund for Children (RFC) to find and help children who are enduring the same kind of nightmare that he and Michael experienced when their parents were taken from them.
The RFC is a public foundation that makes monetary grants to help pay for services that meet the educational and emotional needs of children in the United States whose parents are targeted, progressive activists. The Fund also helps youth in this country who have faced repression because of their own activism.
As happened during Robert Meeropol’s childhood, the RFC’s grant recipients have been thrown into turmoil by the harsh reprisals aimed at those resisting repression today. The Rosenberg Fund for Children provides the shelter of a supportive community for children whose parents are working for social justice, and as a direct result have lost their livelihood, their liberty, their physical or emotional well-being or even their lives in the course of that work.
The RFC makes close to $400,000 in grants every year to aid several hundred children and youth in this country. Since its start, the Fund has awarded almost $5 million to benefit close to a thousand children altogether. These youngsters’ parents (or the youth activists themselves) have been targeted because of their involvement in progressive movements, including the struggles to preserve civil liberties, wage peace, safeguard the environment, combat racism and homophobia, and organize on behalf of workers, prisoners, immigrants and others whose human rights are under threat.
RFC grants pay for visits to see activist parents in prison; for therapy; for arts, cultural and sports programs or lessons; for school supplies or camp tuition; and for many other services and programs that provide therapeutic, recreational or educational resources for children. Youth activists may qualify for grants to develop their organizing skills or for assistance with the costs associated with college or other programs designed to prepare them for adult life.
Beneficiaries aged 18 and under may be eligible to receive up to $3,000 per year from the Fund. Youth ages 19-24 qualify for other amounts depending on their circumstances. Recent RFC awards include:
- $1,954 for educational support for the 18-year-old son of medical marijuana activists. The parents have been imprisoned and suffered physical assaults causing permanent disability.
- $3,500 for educational and sports programs for the four children, ages two to 11, whose mother, an Iraq War resister, fled to Canada with her family. She was deported to the U.S. where she is serving a 10-month sentence.
- $7,065 for educational support, summer camp, and other services for five children, ages eight to 17, whose mother received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan for her efforts to desegregate a public housing complex.
As a result of RFC assistance, many beneficiary children have been able to learn and flourish in a supportive community of sympathetic peers and adults for the first time. For instance, attending a school or a summer camp that celebrates movements for economic and social justice can have a powerfully positive impact on a child whose parents have been attacked for participating in such struggles.
Children in traumatic circumstances yearn for stability. The RFC recognizes that need and aims to make long-term commitments to its beneficiaries. Once children have begun receiving grants, the RFC strives to continue providing aid until the children reach an age where they are no longer eligible for assistance. (Beneficiaries may continue to qualify for certain types of awards through age 24.)
The RFC also provides other types of support for activist families, who often feel isolated and vulnerable. Along with providing grants to beneficiaries throughout their childhoods, the Fund hosts retreats called Gatherings. These events bring together either college-age beneficiaries or families with school-age children, for several days of community-building, networking and recreation. These programs allow children, youth and parents to meet others who are experiencing similar circumstances, while enjoying themselves in a relaxed setting. RFC Gatherings show participants that they are not alone, that there are others who have endured comparable situations.
In addition to Gatherings, the RFC also holds various types of events to spread the word about its work to potential grant recipients as well as potential donors. These programs range from small receptions in private homes; to cultural performances; to presentations by Executive Director, Jennifer Meeropol (Robert’s daughter), at community centers, conferences, schools and other institutions.
RFC events take place around the United States. The Fund’s thousands of contributors are mainly in this country, but the donor base includes many international supporters as well. However, beneficiaries must reside in the U.S. or Puerto Rico to qualify for aid.
The RFC has two standard granting cycles per year, with deadlines in March and October. Qualification guidelines and application materials are available on the RFC’s website at www.rfc.org/guidelines and www.rfc.org/application, or by contacting the RFC’s office in Easthampton, MA (413-529-0063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.) General questions about the Fund, events, or other questions, should be directed to email@example.com. The RFC welcomes new applicants and inquiries.
To learn more about the Rosenberg Fund for Children, visit its website at www.rfc.org; join its email or surface mail lists via the website; or connect with the RFC’s social media networks: Facebook page at www.facebook.com/rosenbergfundforchildren, YouTube at www.youtube.com/wwwrfcorg, or on Twitter @wwwrfcorg.