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MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Celebrating 40 Years for Children

9/18/2013, 3 p.m.
On Sept. 30, friends and supporters of the Children's Defense Fund will gather at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. ...
Marian Wright Edelman (Courtesy of childrensdefense.org)

On Sept. 30, friends and supporters of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) will gather at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to celebrate CDF’s 40th anniversary and honor our best known alum, Hillary Rodham Clinton. She was a law student with CDF’s parent organization, the Washington Research Project, and joined CDF as a young staff attorney right out of law school. When she moved to Arkansas she began a state child advocacy organization and became a CDF board member and then board chair until she became First Lady.

She continued to be a champion for children, women, and families as First Lady, as a U.S. Senator, and as Secretary of State. I am very proud of her and the thousands of young servant leaders who have enriched CDF’s work over the years and are serving and enriching the nation across many sectors at the highest policy and community levels.

CDF is the child of the transformative struggles for civil rights and economic and social justice in the 1960s. This 40th CDF anniversary year marks the historic 50th anniversary of many benchmarks in America’s struggle to live up to its creed enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and overcome its huge birth defects built into the implementation of our political and economic system: Native American genocide, slavery, and exclusion of women and non-propertied White men from America’s political process.

The March on Washington is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared not only his dream but reminded us of our nation’s unfulfilled promissory note millions of children and families still struggle to cash. Dr. King would be appalled that 46 million Americans, including 16.1 million children, are poor today and that hunger and homelessness blight our rich land.

CDF’s parent organization, the Washington Research Project (WRP), began in March 1968 with a fellowship from the Field Foundation to study how to establish an effective voice for poor and minority citizens in the nation’s capital. WRP became counsel and the federal and Congressional liaison for the Poor People’s Campaign and went on to become a pioneer in the public interest law movement as we monitored federal programs for low-income families.

I am proud of the millions of children who have escaped poverty, gained access to health care, child care, Head Start, and permanent adoptive families, and the millions of disabled children who have gained a federal right to education in which we played a role working with others. But so much remains to be done if we are to keep moving forward and all our children can begin life on a level playing field – which is the promise of America. Children today face a budget guillotine called sequestration and regressive forces are seeking to dismantle the still inadequate safety net that tens of millions of Americans depend on to survive. That 16.1 million children are poor today and the younger children are the poorer they are is a shameful blight on the face of America which leads the world in Gross Domestic Product. Unless we break up the Cradle to Prison Pipeline™ lodged at the dangerous intersection of race and poverty, one in three Black and one in six Latino boys who are 12 years old today will go to prison in their lifetime and costly mass incarceration will continue to become the new American apartheid.