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The Courage and Vision of Medgar Evers

Marian Wright Edelman | 2/13/2013, 2:19 p.m.

In some ways the battles of the Civil Rights Movement were easier to fight 50 years ago because they were easier to see. Today, the rigid lines that create two systems of opportunity for children in Mississippi and elsewhere are no longer written into law but remain present and the children know it. One group of children is still tracked towards limited opportunity, second class citizenship, and the invisible but powerful cradle to school to prison pipeline.

Despite having more elected officials and professionals now, there are fewer of the adult leaders on the ground who were once present in every community and totally focused on mentoring and preparing the next generation, teaching strong values, setting high standards, and making sure the future was better for Black children.

Many crucial socializing institutions--family, church, neighborhood, community--have frayed. There are strong leaders still in Mississippi and elsewhere who are struggling to fight for equal education and justice for all children but they must multiply dramatically in numbers, strength, effectiveness, and voice in the face of unjust school policies and practices, like zero tolerance school discipline, and unjust law enforcement tactics.

There is no excuse in 2013 for people of any color to fear joining the struggle for equality and justice and to be afraid to speak up for what's right and just and hold our political leaders accountable. Strong adult voices for children have to become a stronger and stronger force if the clock of racial and economic progress is not to continue to move backwards.

The fabric of family and community must be rewoven and the child must be placed at the center of all of our concerns. Medgar Evers remains a beacon for all of us who are still inspired by his example and vision. We must not let all he lived and died for recede on our watch.

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children's Defense Fund whose 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. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.