Our tragedy in Atlanta has focused the nation's attention on the unsolved murders of 26 young black people. Yet the nationwide coverage, the progress (or lack thereof) of the investigation and the statements of many individuals connected with the case have more often than not clouded over the real issue in Atlanta.

The tragedy in Atlanta is only the most prominent example of a sickness that plagues the entire nation. It has been estimated that more than 4,000 children are murdered annually in the United States, with many of these crimes going unreported. In 1979, the FBI listed 2,773 homicides involving children. These are children of different races and economic levels brought together by the cruel bond of murder, sexual assault and neglect.

American children continue to be forced into prostitution, their bodies infused with drugs and their minds tormented with abuse. No one knows how many of the 50,000 missing children in the United States today are dead, dying or succumbing to the wishes of adults in the back bedrooms and streets of this country. All too often, as evidenced in Atlanta, children are the first to bear the brunt of the sickness and cruelty in our society -- and are the most defenseless.

We, the mothers of Atlanta's slain children, share a bond with the parents of missing and murdered children every where in this country. We know that out children were not hoddlums or hustlers, but were ordinary children engaged in ordinary children's pursuits. Many were gifted children, destined to lead their brothers and sisters when we are gone.

Our hearts and prayers go out to mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers across America who share this tragedy with us, and we gratefully acknowledge the outpouring of sympathy and goodwill that we encounter wherever we go. Yet above all, we call on all Americans to put a stop to the war that is being waged on children.

It is a fact that it is easier to locate a stolen car in America than it is to find a missing child. A national computerized data bank for missing children must be established, just as one exists for stolen cars. The data bank can be used to study and analyze solved and unsolved murder cases involving children.

Efforts to find missing children, be they lost, strayed or stolen, must be augmented. The investigation in Atlanta was many months in getting off the ground, and to this day has yet to come up with any promising leads.

Despite the country's financial crisis, we deplore any massive budget cuts that affect children. Unless we support the needs of today's children, tomorrow will be grim. For ourselves, for the sake of America, we must take care of our future leaders.

Although we in Atlanta want an end to the killings in our city, these very killings have opened our eyes to the plague in this country -- and it is not limited to Atlanta. It is for this reason that we are calling on all Americans to join us on May 25 in the nation's capital and rendezvous for life's sake, so that our children may live. We must all unify if we are to protect our children; we must all stand up, so that America's future leaders have the opportunity to grow up, and serve.