Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, spoke in MPAC Wednesday, explaining the impact of poverty on America’s children and asking the crowd to become advocates for change in transforming the lives of a generation. Wright Edelman, pictured with Belmont Vice President for Spiritual Development Dr. Todd Lake (l) and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Bryce Sullivan, represents the first in an ongoing series of lectures on Christian Faith and the Liberal Arts and Sciences that will be co-sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Office of Spiritual Development.
Speaking from the text of an editorial column she wrote called “America’s Sixth Child,” Wright Edelman said, “Imagine this rich family giving five of its children nourishing meals three times a day, snacks to fuel boundless energy, but sending the sixth child from the table to school hungry, with only one or two meals and never the dessert the other children enjoy… This is our American family today, where one in six of our children live in poverty in the richest nation on earth, more than 40 percent in extreme poverty.”
Referring to what she calls the “cradle to prison pipeline,” Wright Edelman argued, “The most dangerous place for a child to grow up today is that intersection of race and poverty.” She went on to note that U.S. states currently spend on average three times as much money per prisoner as per public school child.
Wright Edelman spoke in favor of comprehensive health care coverage for every child and expectant mother, noting that the recent passage of Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) reauthorization bill was a step in the right direction. However, according to Wright Edelman, the bill does not go far enough to ensure a “safety net” for every child. She encouraged the crowd to get involved politically to become a champion for children. Visit the Children’s Defense Fund Web site for more information.
A graduate of Yale Law School, she began her career in the mid-’60s as the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar. She served as director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in Jackson, Miss. before moving to Washington, D.C. in 1968 as counsel for Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Poor People’s Campaign.” She served as the Director of the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University before founding the Children’s Defense Fund in 1973. She has received many honorary degrees and awards including a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writings, which include nine books, the latest of which is The Sea is So Wide and My Boat is So Small: Charting a Course for the Next Generation.