Interview with Marian Wright Edelman Founder and President, Children's Defense Fund

Marian Wright Edelman, who worked alongside the foremost political and public figures of the 20th century during the civil rights movement and founded the Children's Defense Fund, talks about educating children.

What can you say about the Kauffman connection to CDF Freedom Schools?

I had the opportunity to meet Ewing Kauffman so I heard and felt his passion and commitment for young people firsthand. The Kauffman Foundation is taking what's strong in Kansas City and building on it, connecting it, and expanding it. Our partnership with Kauffman is strengthening the Freedom School infrastructure and helping community leaders do the job that every community wants to do for our children.

Where do we stand today in terms of caring for our children?

Too many of our young people from all races and income groups are growing up unable to handle life in hard places, without hope and without steady compasses to navigate in the world. I think we need to ask very basic questions about the kind of people we want to be and the kind of people we want our children to be. What kind of moral and personal and community and political and policy choices are we prepared to make as adults to build a nation and world where no child is left behind and where every child is well-fed, loved, protected, and feels that they belong?

What part do CDF Freedom Schools play?

Freedom Schools show a new vision for what we can do for our children. We are weaving a new sense of community and a sense of possibility. Education is a precondition to survival in America today. Investing in children is not a national luxury or a national choice. It's a national necessity. Quality schools and after-school and summer activities keep children safer and engaged, give them hope for their futures, and give adults a chance to support and celebrate the children who are beating the odds.

What role did adults play in your life?

When I was growing up the world was not wonderful. The outside world told Black children that we weren't worth anything. But our parents said it wasn't so, and our churches and our schoolteachers said it wasn't so. They believed in us, and we, therefore, believed in ourselves. If you don't like the way the world is, you change it. You really can change the world if you care enough. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time.

What keeps you inspired and motivated?

I'm doing what I think I was put on this earth to do. And I'm really grateful to have something that I'm passionate about and that I think is profoundly important. We want to sustain what we do because poor people and children are often let down. America's conscience and future is being determined right now in the body, mind, and spirit of each American child.

Marian Wright Edelman is a lawyer, social activist, and premier children's rights advocate in the United States. The youngest of five children of a Baptist minister and community activist, Mrs. Edelman was raised to believe that it is every person's duty to help improve the lives of others. During the civil rights movement, she aided African Americans in the south as they asserted their right to vote, and helped bring visibility to the poor living conditions and starvation facing black children and families in poor shantytowns in the Mississippi Delta. In 1973, she founded the Children's Defense Fund as the leading advocate for children and families. Known for her effectiveness and tenacity, she is a passionate champion for the creation and funding of programs to improve children's lives. The Children's Defense Fund and Mrs. Edelman continue to affect public policy by bringing focus to disparities in health care, education, and other social services, particularly for minority children and families.