Marian Wright Edelman

Recent Articles

The emotional toll of growing up Black in America

By Marian Wright Edelman

Contributing Writer

 

Dr. Terrell Strayhorn, a brilliant Black Ohio State University professor, recently opened the Educational Testing Service and Children’s Defense Fund co-sponsored symposium on “Advancing Success for Black Men in College” by sharing a question his 14-year-old son asked him: Why did he get in trouble for speaking out of turn when he jumped in to answer his teacher’s question, but when his White friend did the same thing she was praised for being excited about learning? Dr. Strayhorn noted that many parents and grandparents and educators and policy experts are concerned about the same question. “There are lots of Black and Brown boys who are often penalized for committing the same exact act that non-Black and non-Brown, usually White kids, commit in school — and some students are praised for certain behaviors that other kids are penalized for. It sends a very mixed message, because my son is confused. “So what should I do? Continue Reading →

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Maya Angelou April 4, 1928 — May 28, 2014

How does one pay adequate tribute to the legacy of Maya Angelou, the beloved historic icon and cultural treasure who passed away on May 28? Her enduring presence as an enlightening, empowering beacon to which the hearts and minds of Black women faithfully were drawn, after all, marked her as an individual of inestimable consequence whose like we quite probably will never see again. Dr. Angelou, nee Marguerite Annie Johnson, advanced from an auspicious literary debut, publishing her first autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings with the aid of James Baldwin, who would become a lifelong friend, to a titanic career that spanned more than a half century. Her accomplishments included, in far from a complete listing, a film rendition of the book starring Diahann Carroll and Ruby Dee; six more autobiographies; acting turns in The Richard Pryor Special?, Poetic Justice with Janet Jackson, and Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion; as well as stints directing (Down In The Delta, starring Alfre Woodward, featuring Al Freeman, Jr), producing (Sister, Sister with Rosalind Cash, Diahann Carroll and Paul Winfield), and scoring film soundtracks (For Love of Ivy, starring Sidney Poitier). She is best known for her vast volume of poetry, most notably “On the Pulse of Morning,” which she recited at President Bill Clinton’s 1994 inauguration. Continue Reading →

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Funneling children into the adult criminal justice system

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Marian Wright Edelman

Guest Commentator

 

Children are not little adults. Adolescents are not the same as adults. We’ve known this for years. The research showing that their brains are still developing is clear. Although young people act on impulse, they have the ability to positively change and have a productive future. Continue Reading →

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Holder and Duncan reform outdated school discipline policies

 

 

By Marc H. Morial
Guest Commentator

“A routine school disciplinary infraction should land a student in the principal’s office, not in a police precinct.” — Eric Holder, United States Attorney General

 

On January 8, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan came to Baltimore’s historic Frederick Douglas High School to announce a comprehensive set of guidelines to tackle the problem of “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies in our schools. As the National Urban League and others have been pointing out for years, students of color and students with disabilities receive disproportionately more and markedly harsher punishments for the same misbehaviors as other students. This obviously discriminatory treatment is not only denying an education to thousands of minority students, it is funneling too many of them into the criminal justice system and feeding the school-to-prison pipeline. According to data collected by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, African American students without disabilities are more than three times as likely as their White peers without disabilities to be expelled or suspended. The New York Times, in its Sunday editorial, called the treatment of disabled students “a national disgrace.” The Times cites a finding by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California that “in ten states, including California, Connecticut, Delaware and Illinois, more than a quarter of black students with disabilities were suspended in the 2009-10 school year.”

The National Urban League has long stood with parents and others who have challenged so-called “zero-tolerance” policies that have unfairly targeted students of color and done more harm than good in many public schools. Continue Reading →

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Extend emergency unemployment insurance

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Marian Wright Edelman

Contributing Writer

 

In the last few days of the year, most Americans are wrapping up their holiday celebrations and pondering the promise of 2014. But millions of Americans who have been struggling the longest to find work in our slowly recovering economy are now facing deep uncertainty and despair instead of a Happy New Year. The budget deal Congress finally reached in December did not extend emergency unemployment insurance benefits for the long-term unemployed and 1.3 million struggling jobseekers who lost needed survival benefits on December 28. Unless Congress acts immediately in the new year to extend these benefits, huge numbers of struggling jobseekers will be affected. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates almost five million jobless workers will lose benefits over the next 12 months. Continue Reading →

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“Ask What You Can Do For Your Country”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Marian Wright Edelman

Contributing Writer

 

“It should be clear by now that a nation can be no stronger abroad than she is at home. Only an America which practices what it preaches about equal rights and social justice will be respected by those whose choice affects our future. Only an America which has fully educated its citizens is fully capable of tackling the complex problems and perceiving the hidden dangers of the world in which we live.” — From the speech President John F. Kennedy planned to deliver on November 22, 1963.  

I was a brand new law school graduate in my first months of work with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York City on that fateful November day 50 years ago. I had begun the day visiting a young Black male death row client in a rural Georgia prison accused of killing a White farmer and had returned to Atlanta where I was sitting in a courthouse library researching how many Blacks and Whites had been executed in Georgia’s history. Continue Reading →

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God does not give up on any child

By Marian Wright Edelman

Guest commentator

 

“I’ll take anyone,” Davion said. “Old or young, dad or mom, Black, White, purple. I don’t care. And I would be really appreciative. The best I could be…”

It was a front-page story in the Tampa Bay Times last month that broke hearts around the world. Continue Reading →

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We need a change

 

 

By Marian Wright Edelman

Guest Commentator

 

“Dear President Obama . . . Guns are really easy to get and people think they need them to protect themselves, but most times they’re showing off and making more problems and adding to the violence… 7 people are too many to lose and I don’t want to see another one of my friends, or even myself gone. We need a change.”

In mid-July, students at Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools summer enrichment sites across the country participated in a National Day of Action. Continue Reading →

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Will we soon visit the museum to see poverty?

 

By Marian Wright Edelman

Guest Commentator

 

“We can change the world…Let’s believe in it; let’s make it happen so that someday soon we will visit the museum to see poverty because we will never see poverty in society. It does not belong in a civilized society.”

These are the wonderful words my friend and visionary Dr. Muhammad Yunus said when he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal this spring. He joined a very small group of people who have received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal — just three of a long list of his much deserved awards from countries and international organizations around the world. It’s little surprise that he’s been so widely honored. Many leaders and philosophers say we should end poverty, but through his visionary innovation, tireless hands-on work, and dogged unwillingness to accept it, Dr. Yunus has made ending the cycle of poverty a reality for millions of people around the world, especially millions of women and their children. Continue Reading →

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Zero-tolerance discipline policies: a failing idea

 

 

By Marian Wright Edelman

Guest Commentator

 

Many school children in America are on summer break right now, but here’s a pop quiz about discipline policies in our nation’s schools that’s just for grownups:

• Would you suspend a student from school for four months for sharpening his pencil without permission and giving the teacher a “threatening” look when asked to sit down? • Would you expel a student from school for the rest of a school year for poking another student with a ballpoint pen during an exam? • Would you expel a student from school permanently because her possession of an antibiotic violated your school’s zero-tolerance drug policy? • Would you call the police, handcuff, and then expel a student who started a snowball fight on school grounds? If you answered “no” to any of these questions because they sounded too unfair to be the result of an actual policy, give yourself a failing grade. Continue Reading →

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