Marian Wright Edelman: A Catalyst for Change

The link above provides a solid overview of Marian Wright Edelman's life and upbringing. Refer to and watch the 2 minute clip at the top.
Early Life of Marian Wright Edelman

Marian Wright Edelman was born in Bennetsville, South Carolina on June 6th, 1939. At a young age, her family inculcated many important values. Her parents strongly valued education. They were very religious people and they encouraged their children to help the poor and respect everyone, thus her parents raising her played a large role in her rise as an activist leader and an advocate of rights.

Marian Wright Edelman is an African American woman, and grew up among prejudice and discrimination. She always held her head up high and remained optimistic. One of the greatest lessons she was taught was to stand up for what she believes in.

Ms. Edelman went on to attend Spelman College, where her activism began. Here, her professors encouraged her early-activism, as this was during the Civil Rights Movements, in the late 1950's and early 1960's......

Recommended Time Frame:1:00-4:00

The video above gives insight on the time period in which Marian Wright Edelman lived in, and the kind of activism she became enraptured by early in her college years. It explains the history and origin of African American civil rights.

This is what strikes and marches looked like during the 1960s. In the middle of the image is Martin Luther King Jr, one of the greatest leaders of the Civil Rights Movements and mentor to Marian Wright Edelman.

Marian Wright Edelman participated in a variety of sit-ins, boycotts, and marches with her college colleges. She also lead strikes and worked with many of organizations Martin Luther King was involved with, such as Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples Rights (NAACP). Martin Luther King was one of Marian Wright Edelman's biggest mentors and influences.

Marian Wright Edelman's early activism and passion for civil rights ignited at Spelman College, led her to deepen and pursue a career in legal defense at Yale Law School.

Inside of Yale Law School (Lecture Room)

Upon her graduation from Yale, Marian Wright Edelman obtained a job with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as lawyer, where she continued to fight for the rights of African Americans.

Marian Wright Edelman as the childrens advocate:

Marian Wright Edelman's career changed direction...

Ms. Edelman's career takes a turn after becoming a lawyer for the Child Development Group in Mississippi, where she successfully lobbied for Federal funds in Mississippi for Head Start programs. Head Start programs are monitored under the United States Department of Health and Human Services. These programs provide comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families, this was a big deal for her and ignited her passion to advocate for children.

Edelman's feelings about Children in the United States

  • children are underrepresented
  • children have no voice / no vote
  • less access to independence
  • lack of power renders them vulnerable to violation
  • traditional view: children are property of the parents
Edelman hopes to make the world a better place for the "voiceless children".

Marian Wright Edelman moved from Mississippi to Washington to get the Poor People's Campaign organized and began to focus more on issues relating to child development and children in poverty.

The Creation of the Children's Defense Fund

Poverty in families is a huge issue that children do not have control over. It affects their education and limits the amount of opportunity available to these children. A primary goal of Ms. Edelman is to help the children living in poverty, to create more opportunities, more rights, and create a healthy human being. The image above shows the current poverty rates of the United States and under the leadership of Marian Wright Edelman, it continues to fight this obstacle by helping to create programs and lobby congress for education rights and opportunities to ensure a better future for the children and their families.

Marian Wright Edelman established the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) in 1973 as a voice for poor, minority and handicapped children. She served as a public speaker on behalf of these children, and also as a lobbyist in Congress. She also works as president and administrative head of the organization. The agency serves not only as an advocacy organization, but as a research center to document the problems and act on behalf of the children for a better future.

Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, speaking up for America's Children.

The following video will provide an understanding for the purpose and creation for the Children's Defense Fund. It will reveal what Marian Wright Edelman stands for.

The Childrens Defense Fund (CDF) Mission Statement

"The Children’s Defense Fund 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." - See more at:

Programs Achieved by Ms. Edelman's Children's Defense Fund

Beat The Odds Program

A program that honors outstanding high schools students who have overcome tremendous adversity, demonstrated academic excellence and given back to their communities. Started in 1990, the program identifies and rewards young people who have experienced significant hardship in their lives and supports and trains them to become future leaders in adulthood. CDF holds five high-profile awards events to send a clear signal that someone does care and understand what it takes to stay in school and do well while coping with adversity in their personal lives. The program is held each year in California, Washington, D.C., Texas, Minnesota, New York, and Ohio. Not only do these awards events celebrate the scholarship recipients, they demonstrate that behind each successful child is at least one caring adult

Freedom Schools Program

Builds strong, literate, and empowered children to prepare them to make a difference in themselves, their families, communities, nation and world today. It provides summer and after-school reading enrichment for children who might otherwise not have access to books; the CDF Freedom Schools program plays a much needed role in helping to curb summer learning loss and close achievement gaps. It partners with local congregations, schools, colleges and universities, community organizations, and secure juvenile justice facilities. The CDF Freedom Schools program boosts student motivation to read, generates more positive attitudes toward learning, increases self-esteem and connects the needs of children and families to the resources of their communities. Since 1995, more than 137,000 preK-12 children have had a CDF Freedom Schools experience and more than 16,000 college students and young adult staff have been trained by CDF to deliver this empowering model.

Youth Development and Leadership

The goal of this program is to develop the next generation of servant-leaders who will continue to mend the fabric of community for children and youth. Their vision is to create a successor generation of servant-leaders who will drive community and national transformations and inspire to make long-term improvements for children. For the past 22 years, the program has supported more than 700 students with college scholarships, and has served as a catalyst for young people to become doctors, lawyers, Peace Corps volunteers, teachers and contributing citizens in their communities

Faith Based Action

This program is made up of religious people and organizations . Its members have deep roots in communities across the country, a history of caring for children, and moral authority. Together they help build a successful Leave No Child Behind movement by using the voices in different communities.

Leadership Characteristics

Marian Wright Edelman has built up strong leadership characteristics that have helped her to reach success.

Characteristics Possessed:

  • Desire and Dedication
  • Focus
  • Confidence
  • Empowerment

(more examples in bolded sections of text above)

These characteristics are visible throughout her career as an activist and protector of rights. It's is these key characteristics that led her to accomplish the goals she set her mind to do. Despite the obstacles of the racists time period she lived in, she did not give up. She fought extensively for justice and she did not give up until she achieved what she hoped to achieve and more.


Created with images by Leader Nancy Pelosi - "Health Insurance Reform Starts With Our Children"

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