Wright Edelman: Children’s Advocate
Pola Rosen, Ed.D.
up in a family of 12 foster children tended to by her nurturing
mother and minister father, Marian had to care about children.
Her role as child advocate par excellence for the past
25 years has finally culminated in the landmark comprehensive
legislation Leave No Child Behind. Both New York senators are
behind it as are 80 House co-sponsors. There is still much work
to be done before passage. The bill focuses on childcare and health
care. “There are 12 million children living in poverty and 80
percent live with working parents that have no child care. There
is no reason for that in the richest nation in the world,” Wright
avers forcefully. She adds, “Bush is using words but not putting
the dollars behind the words.”
The Children’s Defense Fund, which Edelman founded and runs in
Washington D.C., has several branches in key cities that concentrate
on state and local work, including lobbying for new laws and helping
to implement those that have been passed.
Edelman was attracted to legal work after being part of the civil
rights movement in the South. When she saw the great need of the
poor people she “followed the need and decided she could help
best by becoming an attorney.” After Yale law school, she went
to Mississippi as a civil rights lawyer interested in school desegregation,
Head Start and the broader social and economic needs of the community.
In the public arena, Edelman soon realized that passing a law
was one step, making the law work was another, and that “all adults
have to stand up and speak for children who have no voice.” In
that process, they affirm the struggle for social justice and
enable the children to stand up for their own rights as well.
“We adults must leave no child behind.”
In discussing difficulties in her life, Edelman cited the balance
between work and family. Her own family in the South stressed
that she could be and do whatever she wanted. Russian history
beckoned but the pivotal point was the civil rights movement,
which gave her an outlet for her anger.
Her mentors were those who fought for social justice: Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Benjamin Mayes, former President of Morehouse
Edelman grew up with the clarity and cohesiveness of the family
and community in the South. Religion was a strong force and the
belief that “every child is sacred.” That has been her credo and
inspiration for her life’s work.#
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