April 27, 2006
Vol. 25 No. 15

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    Edelman will bring call to action for ‘Katrina’s children’ during visit

    By Rob McManamy
    News Office

    Marian Wright Edelman

    After more than 40 years in public service giving voice to the voiceless and defending the rights of children, Marian Wright Edelman no longer worries about mincing her words or challenging others to give more of themselves. Now in her late 60s, the founder and president of the not-for-profit Children’s Defense Fund knows this is no time to stand on such formalities.

    “This is not a time for business as usual, compassion fatigue, moving on to the next story, partisan political games or citizen apathy,” she said earlier this month upon the release of a new CDF report, Katrina’s Children: A Call to Conscience and Action. “This is a time for our nation to act with urgency and efficiency, to construct strong mental health, health, education and after-school levees for all of [Hurricane] Katrina’s children, without another moment’s delay.”

    Edelman will bring her message of hope and activism to the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies next week. As a guest of both the Center for Policy Practice and the Center for Human Potential and Public Policy, Edelman, a nationally recognized civil rights leader, will present her lecture Wednesday, May 3, at the Standard Club, 320 S. Plymouth Court.

    The Center for Policy Practice bridges students’ classroom experience with the policy experience of the real world, and connects the larger policymaking community with the School’s programs and activities. The center’s primary activities include group internships and practica, the mentor program, and a major speaker series.

    The Center for Human Potential and Public Policy is a multidisciplinary research center. Its primary mission is to integrate research and policy perspectives on improving the health, welfare and development of children, youth and families.

    Those interested in attending the downtown event should contact Jennifer Gage of the Harris School at (773) 702-1505, or via e-mail at jcgage@uchicago.edu. Space is limited, so students and faculty are encouraged to reserve seats early.

    Edelman’s address at 6:15 p.m. will be preceded by a reception beginning at 5:30 p.m. She also will answer questions and sign copies of her new book, I Can Make a Difference: A Treasury to Inspire Our Children.

    A graduate of Spelman College and Yale Law School, Edelman began practicing law in 1963, working for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, first in New York and then in Mississippi.

    The first African-American woman to be admitted to the Mississippi Bar, she fought for the rights of the disadvantaged alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. In 1968, after the assassinations of both men, she moved to Washington, D.C., as counsel for the Poor People’s Campaign, which King had started, prior to his death.

    There, she married Peter Edelman, a former aide to Sen. Kennedy, and settled down to start a family. In her “spare time,” however, Edelman went on to found the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm and the parent body of the Children’s Defense Fund, which opened its doors in 1973.

    To date, Edelman has received more than 100 honorary degrees and awards, including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, the Heinz Award, a MacArthur Foundation Prize fellowship, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writings, which now include eight books. In 2000, President Clinton presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

    But all of the public accolades and private appreciation have not dulled her passion, or taken her eyes off the prize.

    “We are living in a time of unbearable dissonance between promise and performance; between good politics and good policy,” Edelman said. “[A time] between professed and practiced family values; between racial creed and racial deed; between calls for community and rampant individualism and greed; and between our capacity to prevent and alleviate human deprivation and disease, and our political and spiritual will to do so.”