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.
We will highlight some of them, many who are leading major federal, state, and local agencies and private sector, philanthropic, faith, educational, and community institutions.
CDF is the child of the transformative struggles for civil rights and economic and social justice in the 1960s. We have come a long way but deep seated cultural, racial, economic, and gender impediments to a just union challenge us still. We must remain vigilant in rooting them out and moving ahead as many attempt to move us backwards.
This year also marks the 45th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign — Dr. King and Robert Kennedy’s last campaign — seeking to make visible the plight of the poor and to build a multiracial poor people’s movement to end poverty and hunger in America through jobs and income and a stronger nutrition safety net.
CDF was founded in 1973 to make all children the focus of national attention emphasizing that there were and are more poor White than Black, Latino, Native American, or Asian children although children of color tend to be disproportionately poor. But we always pay special attention to the most vulnerable and poorest children who have the least voice.
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.
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.
A nation that does not stand for and invest in its children — all of them — does not stand for anything and will not stand strong in a globalizing world and when we are called to account by our Creator.
On our 40th anniversary, CDF is committed to continue planting and watering the seeds for the next transforming nonviolent social justice movement our nation and children need by pursuing justice for children and the poor with urgency and persistence. I hope you will join us.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund. For more information, visit www.childrensdefense.org.