Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thankful for This Passionate Advocate for Children

During this Thanksgiving week, I am thankful for many things and for many people—such Marian Wright Edelman, a passionate advocate for children over the last 40 years.
Marian Wright was born in South Carolina in 1939. Her father, a Baptist minister, died when she was 14. His last words were, “Don’t let anything get in the way of your education.” She didn’t.
Marian went on to earn a law degree at Yale and then in 1964 became the first African-American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar. That year she was very active in civil rights activities in Mississippi, leading in what came to be known as Freedom Summer.
In 1968 Marian married Peter Edelman, a lawyer from Minnesota. They made an interesting couple: she a black Baptist, he a white Jew.
The Edelmans have three grown sons, including Jonah (b. 1970), their second son, who has a Ph.D. from Oxford and is the co-founder and CEO of Stand for Children, an education reform organization.
 Ms. Edelman started the Children’s Defense Fund in 1973, and it has become the nation’s strongest voice for children and families. Here is CDF’s mission statement:
The Children’s Defense Fund Leave No Child Behind mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.
Hillary Rodham was one of the first staff lawyers for CDF, and then after she married Bill Clinton in 1975 she was the Chair of its Board of Directors from 1986-92.
Ms. Edelman was one of the featured speakers at the 2008 New Baptist Covenant gathering in Atlanta. I heard that talk and was much impressed by her—and have been on CDF’s mailing list ever since.
I also enjoyed reading some of her latest book, The Sea Is So Wide and My Boat Is So Small: Charting a Course for the Next Generation (2008).
One of CDF’s ongoing activities has been sponsoring summertime Freedom Schools across the country. Since 1995, more than 100,000 K-12 children have had a CDF Freedom Schools experience. (Here is the link to CDF’s website.)
The church June and I are members of has sponsored a Freedom School for six weeks each summer for several years now. It is a considerable expense and takes a lot of work, but it is a wonderful ministry to the children in the church’s neighborhood, the majority of whom are Hispanic and African-American.
This year for the first time I read a story to the nearly 100 children enrolled in our Freedom School, and I was impressed by the children’s attention and to the way the leaders were teaching/leading them.
The first Freedom Schools were held in Mississippi as part of the 1964 Freedom Summer civil rights activities mentioned above. So this was the 50th anniversary year—as you can see from the picture I took the morning I was at our church’s school in July.

This year a scholarly book honoring Ms. Edelman and the Children’s Defense Fund was published under the title “Improving the Odds for America’s Children.” On the back cover are these words by Hillary Clinton:
In the past forty years, the Children’s Defense Fund has tirelessly worked to improve the lives of children in America. There are dozens of laws on the books protecting children and supporting families that simply wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for the Children’s Defense Fund.
Please join me in giving thanks for Marian Wright Edelman and her indefatigable advocacy for the nation’s children.


  1. The first response received, early this morning, was from Thinking Friend Bob Hanson in Wisconsin. His brief comment:

    "After the decision last night I needed this message."

    1. Amen. I just returned from a surreal trip to Saint Louis. Our trip was originally planned so my wife and I could take my parents to visit our children, but my mother decided she was not up to the trip, so Saturday morning we headed off alone. Surreal started out in the middle of Missouri as we discovered a traffic jam on I-70 was caused by National Guard convoy of armored personnel carriers heading with us to Saint Louis. Shortly after we arrived at our daughter's apartment, we got a call from our son, at a warehouse near the airport, asking if we could come over to see if our vehicle was large enough to transport his purchase back to his apartment. Once we finally found him (and luckily, to box did fit, just barely), everyone was hungry, so we stopped in Ferguson on the way back, for a late supper of pizza. The waitress asked us if we were from Saint Louis (some were), and we had the small restaurant to ourselves, except for two policemen who came in to check on the place halfway through our meal. Later that night, after visiting more friends, we were amazed to see a fleet of police cars idling near the entrance to our daughter's neighborhood. Well, Sunday was a quiet day, and we came home Monday morning.

      So now we have a question to meditate on, while we know it takes a village to raise a child, What do we do when the village kills the child? While I am being confounded by armored personnel carriers motoring down the freeway, my children and their friends are living in Saint Louis, trying to come to terms with all this in a much more personal way. How much pain and despair can a community absorb before it collapses?

      As Langston Hughes asked in his poem "Harlem," "What happens to a dream deferred?"

    2. Thanks, Craig, for sharing this. I'm glad you made it home before the protests started up Monday evening.

      It is certainly painful to see all this violent protest, especially in our beloved state of Missouri.

      It is also painful to see all the anger and unrest among those who feel, probably legitimately, that justice has not been done in this situation.

  2. And then I received this response from John Bush, my oldest Thinking Friend, and fellow church member at Rainbow Mennonite Church:

    "She, indeed, is a wonderful example of Christian love!"

  3. "Amen. And thanks for reminding us of the outstanding life of this good woman" (from Thinking Friend Bob Perry in Springfield, Mo.).

  4. "What a lovely blog about M. W. Edelman. I too have been a longtime admirer of hers and am familiar with her career" (from Gregory Brown, a new local Thinking Friend).

  5. "I’ve thanked God for her for a long time since I heard her speak at Southern Seminary" (from Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky).

  6. I'm proud that my church, Rainbow Mennonite Church, has hosted a Freedom School sessions every summer since 2007. Funding has become more tenuous over the years, and my pessimistic inclination causes me to be surprised every year that we managed to continue.

    1. Thanks, Clif, for posting your comments.

      And for those of you who do not know, Clif's daughter Rachel is the main one at Rainbow Mennonite Church who makes Freedom School happen every year. I much appreciate all she does in that regard--as well as all she does in many other activities also.

  7. Thinking Friend Truett Baker in California writes,

    "Thanks for recognizing the 'Grand Dame' of child advocacy. She has been one of my idols throughout my career in working with troubled children and their families. I have heard her speak on several occasions and I applaud the wonderful work of the Children's Defense Fund. Never has her influence been more important than the present in both child advocacy and race relations. May God continue to bless her."

  8. Thinking Friend George Takashima, a pastor in Canada, shares these comments:

    "Thank you for this article, Leroy. I have heard and read some of the interesting work she was doing among the young.

    "Her name is known among Canadians who are engaged in working with inner city children and youth; they speak highly of Marian and admire the work she does."