Service is the rent we pay to be living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time. – Marian Wright Edelman
Marian Wright Edelman is the epitome of what it means to be a service minded person. Her efforts have positively impacted children and families all across the nation and will continue to do so well into the future.
Marian, daughter to Arthur Jerome Wright and Maggie Leola Brown, was the youngest of five children born in Bennettsville, South Carolina. It can be said that Marian’s interest in public service grew out of the encouragement and example set by her parents, particularly her father who was a Baptist minister. His death, when Marian was only 14 years old, would solidify her focus on education and service as his last words to her were “don’t let anything get in the way of your education”. Marian clearly took those words to heart as she graduated from Marlboro Training High School and went on to receive her Bachelor of Arts from Spelman College. During her time as an undergrad she was awarded the Merrill scholarship and studied in the Soviet Union as a Lisle fellow. It wasn’t long before her passion for service and activism were ignited during the historic Civil Rights Movement. In fact, being arrested for her activism propelled her to pursue a law degree from Yale Law School in 1963.
As the first black person to be admitted to the Mississippi Bar, she began practicing law through the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund offices in Mississippi. She spent her time working on racial justice issues and representing activists from the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964. Four years later she relocated to Washington D.C. and it was during this time that she helped organize the Poor People’s Campaign for Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Not long after she founded the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm and began to deepen her interest in issues related to childhood development and poverty stricken children. Her interest in being a voice for children continued to grow and in 1973 she founded the Children’s Defense Fund.
The Children’s Defense Fund has been leading the charge for identifying and championing the needs of poor and disadvantaged children all across the nation. They are currently focusing on the following:
- The Health Coverage for All Children Campaign to secure comprehensive health and mental health coverage for every child and pregnant woman;
- The Cradle to Prison Pipeline® Campaign to stop the funneling of tens of thousands of youth down life paths that often lead to prison;
- Developing youth leaders who will become the next generation of child advocates; and
- Ending child poverty and stabilizing families.
The accolades that Marian has received are numerous. She’s been awarded over a hundred honorary degrees and has been the recipient of several awards including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, the Heinz Award, and a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship. In 2000, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her many insightful writings.
One article simply cannot capture all of Marian’s profound achievements. As a wife and mother of three sons she continues to work tirelessly on behalf of all children. To help Marian and the Children’s Defense Fund continue to realize their vision for helping our children, consider donating to the organization by clicking here.