Marian Wright Edelman, the indefatigable leader of the Children’s Defense Fund, called on all Americans to reduce gun violence, invest in early childhood education and address the enduring cycle of poverty affecting millions of American children at a gala celebrating the organization’s 40th anniversary in Washington D.C.
“Every 32 seconds today, in the richest nation on earth, a child is born in poverty—11.5 million children,” said Wright Edelman, who as an attorney in the 1960s was active in the Civil Rights Movement and the War on Poverty. “If Dr. King were alive today, I have no doubt he would be, along with Robert Kennedy, calling for a poor people’s campaign.”
The event, which was attended by Hilary Rodham Clinton, Rev. James Lawson, Geoffrey Canada, of the Harlem Children’s Zone and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, was held against the backdrop of the government shutdown. Already struggling to recover from the Great Recession, millions of poor Americans will be the most affected by cuts to programs or delays in funding for programs like Head Start, which provides grants to increase preschool education, or the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, a lifeline for millions of children and families.
“The work of the CDF and Marian Wright Edelman is important and will continue,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “Here in Los Angeles, we have seen how children have benefited from the Freedom Schools program, how they have been empowered to learn and reach their highest potential.”
Clinton noted the important role the Children’s Defense Fund has taken in giving American children a voice in political corridors, including bills that help to expand health insurance coverage for children and another that reduces the number of children languishing in foster care.
Not only has the CDF lobbied for stronger laws protecting children but also created programs such as the CDF Freedom Schools literacy program to help break the cycle of poverty by teaching all children the value of reading and education.
“Freedom Schools are a brilliant intervention in children’s lives,” said Clinton.
Edelman’s passion for helping the poor was ignited at a young age. She exposed poverty to people like Sen. Robert F. Kennedy when she took him to the Mississippi Delta to meet sharecroppers and their malnourished children. She was on the frontlines of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty where she advocated for creation of the “social safety net.”
But perhaps the evening’s highlights came when Young Advocate Leadership Training alumni spoke of their experiences learning how to lead, including Michael Tubbs, currently the youngest member elected to the Stockton City Council and Amanda Aguirre who completed a fellowship at the White House Office of Public Engagement. There was a performance by a cello protégé, Malik Kofi, 12-year-old cellist, and his mentor world renowned cellist Udi Bar David, a tap dance performance by the Manzari Brothers, singing by the Washington Performing Arts Society Children of the Gospel Choir and the grand finale singing performance by Annisse Murillo with Freedom Scholars holding lanterns surrounded Wright Edelman and Clinton on stage.
The work will continue for Wright Edelman, whose energy and passion seem undeterred.
“When 1 in 3 black boys and 1 in 6 Latino boys is at risk of going to prison, we’re at risk of creating a new apartheid if we don’t stand up, break it up and transform it,” she said.
Perhaps Clinton summed it up best when describing her longtime friend: “As Marian has said, ‘This is the work of a lifetime. CDF’s values are what American is really all about. They are making the case for the children of our country.”