Annual Survey Dedication: Marian Wright Edelman

– Good evening. It’s my pleasure to
welcome all of you here, and to thank you for joining us, and joining NYU School of Law in this tribute to Marian Wright Edelman. As you all know, each year the NYU Annual
Survey of American Law dedicates its forthcoming issue to someone who has made a significant
contribution to the legal field, which is dramatically
understating the impact that Ms. Edelman has had. We have had over the years the privilege of honoring distinguished judges, including Supreme Court justices, and Court of Appeals judges as well, as well as leading
academics and practitioners. And I am just delighted that our students on the NYU Annual Survey of American Law have chosen to dedicate their
76th volume to Ms. Edelman, the founder and President Emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund. She will be formally
introduced in just a moment, but let me say, on behalf of the faculty and administration of the school, how thrilled we are to have you here, and that you’ve allowed us
to celebrate you in this way. Now I wanna introduce the Editor in Chief of the Annual Survey, Kathryn Morris. Prior to joining NYU Law, Kathryn spent six years in public service. She began her career as a
Public Affairs Specialist for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Later joined the FBI as a paralegal. And during law school, she has interned at several municipal state
and federal agencies, in health care and law enforcement, and after graduation she
will return to public service as an attorney for the
Army Corps of Engineers. Kathryn. (applause) – What is the worth of a child? Imagine a world where
children are not valued, where we do not put their needs
and desires before our own. Imagine a world where we do
not invest in their future. Where we do not make sacrifices to ensure their health, happiness,
and spiritual well-being. What is the worth of a child? Not so long ago, the worth of a child was measured by the value of her labor. On our farms, children were responsible for household chores, so that men could go
and work in the fields. Industrialization created a
special need for child labor, in our factories and our textile mills, because their small hands
were perfectly equipped to work among the dangerous machinery. For the working-class family, a child was a vital source of income. She was the secondary
wage-earner to her father, because her mother’s place
was still in the home. The American Society for
the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals predated any organization devoted to the protection of children. Early advocates for the rights of children had to confront a society that
did not recognize their worth beyond the value of their labor. In our cities, automobiles and streetcars soon replaced horse-drawn carriages. The streets, once the
playgrounds of our children, became the scene of public tragedy. In the 1920s, 60% of all
vehicle-related deaths were children under the age of nine. On May Day in 1926, the nation mourned the 7,000 children killed
in the previous year alone. What is the worth of a child? In wrongful death suits, our courts held that the life of a slain child was valued at the lost labor and
wages to her parents. For children too young to work, there was no compensation
for their grieving parents, because there was no economic
value to their lives. For the working-class family who relied on the earnings of their children, insurance companies offered life policies specifically for them. But advocates argued
that such policies were the continued exploitation
of children, even in death. They warned that allowing parents to bet on their child’s mortality
could lead to abuse and neglect. But for some, the economic need was real. The payout on a child’s
life policy determined whether the child would
receive a Christian burial, or a pauper’s grave. Early state legislation
regulated child labor to provide working children
a minimum education, but it did not exclude
them from the labor market. It was not until 1938, with
the Fair Labor Standard Act, that child advocates bounded
over the first hurdle towards human rights. But with this federal
law, we had not defined the new name or the new worth of a child. It was no longer the value of her labor. Instead her worth was
now the sentimental value to her family. In wrongful death suits,
juries began to award significant damages. This was in part to
acknowledge that no amount can ever really make parents whole again after the loss of their child. But should the worth of a
child be her sentimental value? Should she be a symbol of
youth and innocence to society, an object of parental affection
to be coddled and adored? What becomes the value of
a child who is forgotten, neglected, and seemingly unloved? Marian Wright Edelman is one of the great child rights
advocates of our time. The worth of a child does
not come from the value of her labor, nor from the
affection and love of her family. Her worth comes from within. It is her dignity, her
spirit, that gives her value. Mrs. Edelman, you have
always seen the worth in every child. You have fought for their rights. Because of you, there
are children who are free from hunger and homelessness. Because of you, there are
children that have access to health care, who have a
foundation to be successful in the classroom, and
who feel safe, supported, and loved in their homes
and in their communities. Mrs. Edelman, through the
Children’s Defense Fund, you have provided us with
a model of excellence. Through your organization’s
policies and lobbying, you have created a path for us to follow, and to continue the advocacy
for children’s rights. We cannot imagine a world
where children are not valued. We cannot imagine a world where we do not invest in their future. Mrs. Edelman, thank you for showing us, and helping us to see their dignity, their spirit, and their worth. Thank you. – Thank you, Kathryn. For those who haven’t been to one of these dedication ceremonies before, the model here is that
rather than hearing from the dedicatee at the beginning, we will do that at the very end. In the meantime we will hear
from colleagues and friends of hers who’ve known and
worked with her over the years, and we have just a terrific
slate of speakers to speak in tribute to Mrs.
Edelman here this evening. The first of whom, if
ever there was a person in a place who required no introduction, it would be John Sexton. Can it be that there’s a
person within a mile of here who doesn’t know who John Sexton is? I don’t think so. But he is, among many things, the Benjamin Butler Professor of Law, here at the Law School, and of course, Dean Emeritus and President Emeritus. He has been a critical
part of NYU since 1981. I probably count myself
as one of the many Fs OJ, Friends of John, as do
many of us in this room, and we’re thrilled to
have John with us tonight. Professor Sexton. (applause) – If you think about it for a moment, this is a quite extraordinary monument to an extraordinary person. What happens with the
dedication of the Annual Survey is that a talented group
of students dedicate an entire year’s work of the collective to the person that’s honored. So the entire volume of
this year’s Annual Survey, which was something that was
created by Arthur Vanderbilt, whose portrait is behind me, and for whom this building is named. The Annual Survey of American Law, which around the world, for decades, has been a window into American law for those that know little about it. And this group of dozens of students have the right each year
to choose a single person to whom they will dedicate
the entire year’s work. And Marian? That’s you. That’s pretty cool. For most of the people in the room, and most of the people who know me, there is one person that
doesn’t need introduction, and that is the most
remarkable person I ever met, whose name is Lisa. When Lisa and I graduated
together from law school in 1979, it was impossible to be a
law student or young lawyer, at least one who cared about the world, without knowing that one
of the heroes of the law was Marian Wright Edelman. That was 1979. That’s nearly, well,
that’s a long time ago. That’s 50 years ago. In 1980, our first year, is it 40? It’s a long time ago. In 1980, which was our first year in D.C., the Children’s Defense
Fund was already admired as the quintessential
public interest organization working in this important
area that Kathryn so eloquently highlighted. And Marian’s work was legendary. Interestingly, though, Lisa
and I spent two years in D.C., and we had all kinds
of mutual connections. To the best of my memory, we never met, and we certainly never forged a friendship during those two years. Marian entered our lives as a friend, and this will very much
be from that angle. Not the professor, not the
dean, not the president. She entered our lives
as a friend a year after we had settled in New York. Lisa, at the Charles Revson
Foundation, and I at NYU. I remembered distinctly the
night when Lisa, at dinner, first raised Marian’s name. Not as an icon, but as someone with whom she proposed to work. And she described the work
at CDF that she was hoping to support from the Foundation. Suddenly that evening,
through her magical words, the hero whom we had
admired became a person. And there was an excitement
in her voice about the possibilities of that partnership. An excitement that, of
course, has been vindicated in the record of the following decades. Four decades, as it turns
out, that we honor tonight. At the time, Hillary Clinton was the Chair of the Children’s Defense Fund. So it came to be that these
three magnificent women forged a friendship, and in
many respects, a partnership. Eventually, the three husbands
were added to the circle. And that is how Marian the
person entered my life. So it was, as with so many of the very best things in my life, my friendship with this
very special person was as a result of Lisa. Today there are many. It’s a very distinguished
list of people here, both as colleagues and
friends, come here today, and they’ll speak about
Marian’s extraordinary professional accomplishments, and in a moment I’ll
highlight a couple myself. But I wanna begin by telling
you a more private story. Don’t know that it’s been told. It has been told my me. But one that illustrates what, as I thought about this evening, seemed to me to be a foundational trait in Marian’s continued success. Early on, I think it was
the summer of 1983 or 1984, the three women conceived of gathering a dozen or so people together
in a relaxed setting, where we would all be
together around the clock. It was a kind of form of
an intellectual retreat. We, they decided, strike the we. They decided that we would
discuss certain big topics, and that we would all do
a set of common readings of various books that
they selected in advance. There was ample time for social activities and side bar conversations. I remember many of them very vividly. But there was also designated
time where we would all gather for a serious amount of time
each day for conversations, development of strategies, and so forth. The husbands were invited to participate. This was the first time I
met Peter, Marian’s husband. We repeated these, I’ll call
them retreats, for a few years. What I found extraordinary
about those summer days, is something that I think
always has been reflected in Marian’s work. The importance, even as one
deals with immediate challenges, of concentrating on how
these immediate challenges, and even intermediate steps, can be shaped in an arc
that serves long term goals. This capacity to operate effectively on several levels simultaneously, within the context, especially,
of a complex organization, with pressing, immediate needs, with a crisis du jour that
always has to be handled, is a trait that I saw in those years, and I’ve seen in the years
since in Marian Wright Edelman. Many will speak of her
achievements in expanding a child’s primary education,
health care, and other needs. But I believe her singular
success on those fronts is a product of her
capacity to think and act in this multi-dimensional way. In my written submission, I
mention just a few examples, how one can see in the
Handicapped Children Act of 1975 the kind of arc of development. Kind of like Thurgood Marshall
building the case for Brown, or Ruth Ginsburg building
the case for Roe versus Wade. This was that kind of litigation strategy brought to political advocacy, and you could see in that 1975 Act, the later work that show up
in children’s health care in the ’90s and even into this century. From 1975 through the present,
and that’s just one example, Marian has forced the country
to change its way of thinking by bringing the easy case, or
relatively easy case, first. None of them have been easy. But then building on that
precedent of political momentum that leads to grand
strategic success when viewed back through the lens of 40 years. I’m gonna skip the
other specific examples, but I just wanna say this,
’cause it’s another angle that perhaps I uniquely can bring to this, perhaps even to Marian’s surprise. And it connects to my apology
that I’m speaking first not because of any
importance or closeness, but because my legendary,
at least in my mind, course, Baseball as a Road to God,
is taught on Tuesday nights, and I must get to my
students at some point before class begins shortly after 6:30. But, I’m gonna connect, believe it or not, Marian, to Baseball as a Road to God. Showing a rarely seen
dexterity in rhetoric. Since Lisa’s death, and this
is in the written version, since Lisa’s death, I’ve
followed Marian’s career more from a distance, but
always with admiration. I never hear her name, however, without experiencing a
flood of warm memories of how this woman,
already a model for anyone associated with the law
and public advocacy, took seriously, first, a junior woman, and then her husband, and
included us in the grand dream. There’ve been poignant
intersections other than my just hearing her name, however, one of which connects to
Baseball as a Road to God. As part of the course each year, on extra time, not class time, because I think every minute
of class time is precious, and I would never show a movie in class. This is lazy teaching. But I do, as I will tonight,
in teaching The Natural, offer the students the movie The Natural, and a meal afterwards. And when we work our way
through the religious texts like Otto and Iliad, and
the great baseball novels, like The Natural, and The Celebrant, and The Universal Baseball Association, and we get the that moment in the course where the hypothesis that
baseball could be a religion for some requires us to move to history, and the story of New York
on October the 4th, 1955. One of the twelve greatest days
in the history of humanity. The day, and the only day
that the legitimate Dodgers, the Brooklyn Dodgers,
will win the World Series. They will stay after class
to watch a magnificent HBO documentary called
The Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush. I have told, over the decades,
on six different continents, the story of how that day,
a crucifix released by my best friend Dougie’s
hand, broke the tooth here, that for years I carried
as a mark of that wonderful and sacred day. I had never told the
story of that day as well as it was told in that film. And the man who produced
that film was Ezra Edelman, Marian’s son. And he got access to me to tell that story because he was Marian’s son. And he did a better job
at it than I ever have. Having that story immortalized
in film was a real treat. But a greater treat was the
considerable time off-camera spent with Ezra talking about his mother. We all should be so lucky as
to be loved by our children the way she is loved by him. My daughter Katy, with
whom I share such love, today is a Legal Aid lawyer
working with children. I directly connect that to
the subliminal influence through her mother of
Marian Wright Edelman at our dinner table, though
physically not present, always present in stories. Perhaps Marian’s greatest long-term legacy is that there are thousands
of Katy’s out there always thinking farther down the road. So I close by saying, as
Lisa would want me to say, that I’ve observed
Marian from many angles. Yes, I’ve seen her as the hero of the law that we celebrate today. I’ve also seen her as a
friend, a mentor, a wife, and a mother. To those who were privileged
to know her in all those roles, no amount of celebration is enough. To friends, family, colleagues, and children around the world, Marian is and has been nothing short of a constant blessing. I’m so happy to see you made
part of NYU in this way, and I congratulate the
students on their choice. (applause) – Thank you, John. And now I am delighted to
introduce Elaine Jones. Mrs. Jones served as
President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP’s Legal Defense
Fund from 1993 to 2004. She was the first woman
to hold those positions. She spent her career at
the LDF after graduating from the University of
Virginia Law School in 1970 as the Law School’s first
black female graduate. Under her leadership, LDF
obtained many significant, landmark legal victories. And throughout the course of her career, she has been awarded many honors, including 13 honorary degrees, as well as the Eleanor
Roosevelt Human Rights Award, presented in 2000 by President Clinton. We are thrilled to have her
here with us this evening. Elaine Jones. (applause) – Good afternoon, everyone. Evening, I guess I should say. This is truly a wonderful occasion, and I am glad that all of
us were able to get here. I was able to make it to
New York from Washington, but Lyft to NYU Law was
not quite as easy to do. Let me see my thoughts. All of us are pleased to
assemble this evening, to recognize the past,
present, and continuing work of Marian Wright Edelman, because she is by no means finished. And she has spent decades
molding our institutions, economic, social, political, educational, to recognize, serve,
and promote and protect the interests of the least of these. The least of these, those
who are most vulnerable. Those who are in greatest need. Those who should have the highest call on our collective conscience. Now, preeminent among
these I am describing, are our children, for whom
we are still not doing nearly enough. It is better than it has been, due principally to CDF’s work. And as poor Robert Frost reminds us, we have miles to go before we sleep. I also must take a moment to
applaud the editorial board of the NYU Annual Survey of American Law, because you deserve it. Honor the leadership of
your Editor in Chief, Kathryn Morris, for choosing
extraordinarily well, and dedicating this 76th
volume to tonight’s honoree. What I find amazing, is
how the Annual Survey persuaded the humble,
erudite, hard-working, quote MWE close quote, as she is often lovingly
and respectfully referred to behind her back, to allow us to pause for
a well-deserved moment of recognition for her
extraordinary achievements. Now, I am one who understands
the absolute necessity of fundraising to support a nonprofit. And I could comprehend this a bit better were this a fundraiser for CDF. Or, giving a scholarship
to a worthy child. Or to finance a weekend
to inspire and mold children and young adults at Haley Farm. Or even to help finance
a summit or conference on some aspect of the
elimination of poverty. This evening, however, is a
tribute to the force of nature who has been trying to teach
us for decades how to love all our children. My experience also with MWE
is that personal recognition is not her cup of tea. However, for a worthy
cause, she will endure. Show up, be pleasant, and enjoy it. But upon reflection, we
must remember that Marian is an activist. However, she is also an
author and a scholar. And through it all she has
demonstrated an appreciation for a life of letters, for writing. Reflection, chronicling,
teaching, and inspiring through the printed word. With her gifts of insight
and strategic vision, she would understand,
value, and be honored by the gift of this 76th volume, to inform and inspire generations to come. Therefore tonight, we thank
you, the Annual Survey, for conceiving the 76th volume, and for persuading Marian to bear with us as we express our gratitude for using her extraordinary gifts to
move us inch by inexorable inch to a realization of her vision. There are others who will
spend their time tonight talking about CDF. Those who work there, who
understand it, who know it. That is really not my place. But I want to spend an
additional few minutes thinking about Marian in a pre-CDF period. For as odd as it may seem,
there was such a time. To be frank, in hindsight, I can see that even during
that pre-CDF period, the idea of CDF was planted and nurtured. Jack Greenberg, the head of
the NAACP LDF from ’61 to ’84, had the uncanny ability,
as did his predecessor, Thurgood Marshall, to find,
fund, and otherwise support, talented students and young lawyers. Jack’s goal was to identify
promising young graduates whose goal was simply to
serve, and to find a place where they could fight for
racial justice and equality. As the new Director-Counsel of LDF in ’61, Jack had to scramble and find some money. And he found some fellowship funds, so he could only fund two interns. And he funded Marian Wright, then a recent graduate in
1963 from Yale Law School, and Julius Chambers, the first
African-American graduate of the University of North
Carolina School of Law, and LDF’s third Director-Counsel. Upon her graduation from law school, when Marian received that LDF fellowship, after a year in New York she
was whisked off to Mississippi. And I can’t say she became
one of four black lawyers in Mississippi, because
Marian was not then a member of the bar. And there were three gentlemen,
one a former in his 80s, and two others who were in Mississippi. That was the Mississippi Bar. And Marian passed the bar
the next year, in 1965, but during that 1964 year,
that Freedom Summer year, she opened an office in a
pool hall on Farish Street in Jackson, Mississippi, and clerked for the three black lawyers who
were located downstairs. And so everything that
Marian wrote, they filed. Now, and they also signed
everything she wrote. So they’d get credit for it in terms of the historical record. So when Marian then became a
member of the Mississippi Bar the following year, she was the first African-American woman admitted. Now, I know her bar exam
had to have been perfect, because if Mississippi could
have found any pretense, they would have found it. Now I know this, personally, because I brought too many
lawsuits against bar examiners in the early ’70s across this country, especially in the South. Alabama, South Carolina,
across the country, for messing around with the bar exams of African-American students. And I would see C-O-L beside the name when we filed the lawsuit, and I asked in deposition one
bar examiner, what is C-O-L? And they told me colonel. I said, so everybody was a colonel? Everybody black was a colonel? So Marian passed that
bar exam, so that shows. She was valedictorian from Spelman, and she did well, so
she’s always done well. But here is what’s interesting. Judge Connor Martley was
the first woman of color to try a case in Mississippi, but she was not a member
of the Mississippi Bar, she didn’t have to be. She came out of New York, went down there, tried a case, and went back. Marian was a different kettle of fish. She was living in Mississippi. Mississippi was home, and
she was there for four years. Marian had three law
students who joined her, ones she knew before the bar and after, who joined her in her office,
one of whom was Danny Parker, now a senior judge on the
Second Circuit Court of Appeals. He learned a great deal from Marian, and I have not yet deposed him on exactly what all of that was,
but that time will come. The Jackson, Mississippi
office with Marian at its head, with the sisters from LDF National Office, and Northern volunteers, handled more than 120 cases
arising out of Freedom Summer, ’cause that was Freedom Summer. Some of which involved lots of defendants. She had school desegregation cases, peaceful protest cases,
criminal justice cases, welfare and municipal service cases, employment discrimination cases, and cases seeking public accommodations particularly against
most of the Dairy Queens in Mississippi, who strangely proved to be fairly intransigent when
it came to desegregating its facilities. That four-year stint,
CDF incubated in Marian, because she learned that
lawsuits alone will not eliminate disparity,
different unequal treatment, and segregation. When she became involved
in bringing Head Start to Mississippi during that period, she knew then that the
community and political action are needed in the struggle. So Marian was down
there during some of the most turbulent years in Mississippi, giving it her all. When, in 1967, she and Peter Edelman laid eyes on one another, when he as assistant to
Robert Kennedy showed up, within a year Mississippi
was in the rearview mirror, for Marian was back in D.C. marrying Peter the following year. But she didn’t give up the struggle, she stayed with the struggle. This year, they’ve been
together for 51 years, Marian and Peter. So now I want to read that book. She’s written several, but
that one I have not yet seen, and I’m waiting for it. After beginning the
Washington Research Project, she represented Dr. Martin Luther King in the Poor People’s Campaign. Here she is, four years later, in 1972. I am young lawyer at
the Legal Defense Fund. Marian comes in to meet
with the board of directors. She’s standing in front of the board, explaining her vision re:
this new institution devoted to molding children into
wholesome, responsible adults. The reaction was interesting. They listened. They were intrigued. I wouldn’t say enthusiastic,
but they heard it. I was mesmerized. I think I was the youngest
person in the room. But from that person
on, from that time on, listening to her passion
and her commitment, and seeing that vision, she has been a shero of
mine from that day to this. And that has been 47 years. I continue to learn from Marian, her conferences, her
seminars, her work at CDF. She deserves all the
honors we can give her. I mean, you know, the woman has more than 100 honorary doctorates. I guess that’s easier than
having to write dissertations, there, you only give a speech
for the honorary doctorate, but we give her credit. You know, she’s got more than
100, and they keep coming. Got one last year, got one year before. All of the awards, she
has earned, she deserves. And what comes to mind
is lives of great men and women, paraphrasing, all remind us we can
make our lives sublime. And departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time. Footprints that perhaps another, sailing o’er like Charlemagne, a forlorn or shipwrecked
brother or sister, seeing, to take heart again. Let us then be up and doing, with a heart for anything, still achieving, still pursuing, learn to labor, and to wait. Marian has big feet, and
she continues to give us big footprints. And it’s going to be very,
very difficult to fill them, but all we can do is do our very best. Congratulations, my friend. (applause) – Wow, thank you. I now have the pleasure of
introducing our next speaker, James Wild. He is currently President of the Food and Action Research Center. Previously he served as Program Director and General Counsel at CDF. His accomplishments at
CDF include spearheading the first major expansion of
the Earned Income Tax Credit, as well as the passage of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. And he led CDF’s Medicaid
expansion, child care, and child support
enforcement reform efforts. Mr. Wild. (applause) – Well, I was going to start by saying I’m hugely honored to have
been asked to participate in this tribute today to
Marian, and that’s true, but I wasn’t aware that I
was going to be following John Sexton and Elaine Jones. So, while I’m honored to be in this distinguished group of speakers, I’m also somewhat abashed. But the Annual Survey has made
a wonderful choice in Marian, and we have many things to say about her. I’m gonna focus on three aspects of Marian’s leadership tonight. First is her pioneering of essentially a new area of social
justice advocacy work. Second is her grounding of that work in her profound interest
in and knowledge of American history, and particularly the
history of resistance. And third is Marian’s ability
to adjust her strategies to keep the work fresh and relevant, and to adapt to a rapidly
changing American society. So I’m gonna start with
Marian’s role as the pioneer of a new area of social justice work. It would be an overstatement to say that Marian invented
child advocacy in the U.S. And she would be the first
to get up and yell at me for saying that, and object. And she would call out the
names of many forebears, many of them unheralded,
many of them women, many of them people of color. But when Marian launched
the Children’s Defense Fund, there was no entity like the
one she set out to create. A multi-faceted advocacy organization committed to building the
rights of and supports for children and their families, not just through litigation, but through research,
lobbying, regulatory advocacy, network-building, organizing, and consistent and moral leadership. It’s work would span the spectrum from the most aspirational to the most granular interventions
on behalf of children. And not just its strategies
have been multi-faceted. So have been its concerns. It has addressed a robust range of issues central to children’s lives. And the genius in the creation,
the genius of all this, was recognizing the size
and shape of the vacuum of advocacy for children in this country. And that American
politics and jurisprudence needed and would have to
respond to a forceful presence to fill that vacuum. And the genius in the
creation of CDF came, as well, in the insight that
meeting children’s needs would be an important
tool also for addressing the related harms of racism
and poverty in this society. As Marian herself said, I had got the idea that children might be
a very effective means for broadening the base for change. The weaving together of those strands of meeting children’s needs,
promoting racial equity, and pursuing aggressive
anti-poverty advocacy, created the fabric that
has made CDF unique, and Marian a clarion voice for justice for close to 50 years. Second, Marian’s vision for
this effort also has always been intimately connected to her knowledge of the history of American
social change movements. To work with Marian, and
you can see and hear this in her speeches, and her
books, and her writings, as well as her day to day conversation. To work with Marian was to
have an immersion course in the history of oppression
and resistance to it, that should define how one should act in this unjust society. It’s no accident that
Marian wears pendants with pictures of Sojourner
Truth and Harriet Tubman. And the history that she
tells has continuity, goes way back, but it
continues into our lifetimes as well. Like her commitment to
describing for her younger, more naive, less experienced staff the experiences that
Elaine was talking about, particularly describing
the courage of the women from the African-American
community in Mississippi, who built the voter registration campaigns and the Head Start programs. Marion knows this history, she honors it, she integrates it into
her thinking and work, and the thinking and work
of the people around her, and she makes it real for
Americans, for the rest of us. She uses the history of these
struggles for social justice as a source of inspiration and resilience for herself and for those around her. The third attribute of
Marian I wanna point to is her foresight, and
ability, and willingness, to adjust her goals and methods. The story of CDF is a story of change, not just in the sense of the purpose of being an effective
agent of social change, but in the sense of the
organization going through it’s own evolutions and revolutions. Its mission always remained the same, and Marian never deviated an inch from the focused pursuit of that mission. But its strategies evolved
as, for better and worse, the America around it changed. For children, for women, poor people, people of color, and for
lawyers and advocates. This coming June, it will be 50 years since I graduated from this law school. It was also June 1969 when Warren Berger replaced Earl Warren as Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court. One key starting point
for the long-term erosion of litigation as a tool
for enforcing rights and pursuing equality in this country. The erosion is not what
those of us who grew up and learned our history
in the ’50s and ’60s, it’s not what those of
us who have been inspired by cases like Brown v. Board, N. Ray Gault and Reynolds v. Simms, and Goldberg v. Kelly,
it’s not what we foresaw. I’m not up here to whine,
although it’s very tempting. But my point is that Marian
always has carved out new paths, rethinking the strategy and keeping CDF and the movement flexible. When the progressive advocacy within the progressive advocacy
community as a whole, Marian’s adaptations and
vision of how to proceed typically were ahead of
and served as models for other groups. Even in 1973, the year
that CDF was launched, some of the handwriting was on the wall, particularly, for example, in San Antonio Independent
School District v. Rodriguez, when the Supreme Court largely eviscerated the ability to use the
courts and the Constitution as a means to achieve
educational equity and quality. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s,
while CDF kept litigating, it grew its toolkit of strategies, growing its research capacity,
its lobbying capacity, its budget analysis, and
particularly its state and local presence. And these changes since
have been complemented by huge field capacity, including recently a
special focus on organizing among youth of color ministers
and religious congregations. So I see these three
qualities an extraordinary conceptual breakthrough at the beginning, a deep connection to history,
and its meaning for the work, and the unusual adaptability
to new circumstances, combined with Marian’s
force of personality and commitment to moral leadership, as the elements that
have made her a leader. And not just among Americans,
but around the world. For several years during
the Clinton administration, Marian was the head of the U.S. delegation to the UNICEF Executive Board. In effect, the U.S. ambassador to UNICEF. I saw there how child advocates
and government officials from around the world reacted
with awe and with deference to meeting her and listening to her. This was not, unfortunately, because the U.S. was so
advanced in its recognition of children’s rights. Very often we lag behind other countries. It was because they felt that
Marian had created a path that was important everywhere, that she inspired their efforts, and that she embodied their aspirations and the qualities they
wanted to bring to the work. And she is indeed a force, a unique leader of a
compelling cause for our times that must engage us all. And that’s why we honor her today. (applause) – Thank you. And now I’d like to
introduce Olivia Golden. Ms. Golden is the Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Policy. She has spent her career
in service to children and families. She’s held public service posts, leading the D.C. Children
and Family Services Agency, and was Commissioner for
Children, Youth, and Families, and later the Assistant Secretary
for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services. We are thrilled that she’s
with us this evening. (applause) – Good evening. It’s an honor, as Jim said. Daunting, but an honor to be with this extraordinary
group of people to honor Marian Wright Edelman. Marian was the first boss that I had when I moved to Washington D.C. in 1991, more than 25 years ago. I’ve thought of her and
what I’ve learned from her in those two years I worked for her so many times in the years in between. But especially in these last two years, since the election of 2016, a time that has demanded
strength, clarity, strategy, and passion beyond what I
think any of us believed we had to offer, and Marian’s been my gold
standard in that time. I do want to note what many people here probably already know, that I’m just one of a
very large number of people who came to Marian early in their careers, and soaked up what she had to teach. From the beginning, she’s
left an extraordinary legacy of younger leaders. From the CDF staff and
board, her alums include, as you’ve already heard, Hillary
Clinton, Maggie Williams, along with Geoffrey Canada
and Angela Glover Blackwell, who I met when they
were young, rising stars on the CDF board, as
well as people who may be less famous in the nation as a whole, but who are essential in
the day to day advocacy work in Washington D.C. People like Debbie Weinstein,
the longtime leader of the Coalition for Human Needs. Cliff Johnson, who created
a child and family focus at the National League of Cities. Arloc Sherman, a brilliant
numbers and creative advocate at the Center for Budget
and Policy Priorities. So if you think about all
of us in this CDF diaspora, what did we learn from Marian. Three themes kept coming
to me as I thought about these remarks. First of all, Marian taught
us all to hold on stubbornly to our core values and instincts. That came through in what
you heard from Elaine, that she taught by example,
and sometimes by words, that we should never allow
others to define for us our work, our mission in life,
or the core values we hold. She often quoted a phrase
which she attributed to her childhood, assign yourself. Meaning that each of us
holds the responsibility to figure out what the work
is that we’re meant to do. One of my most vivid CDF memories, Marian, is a story told to me by Paul
Smith, the late Paul Smith, who was our beloved
research and data guru, and who had been with Marian for years. And he served sort of as a guide to many of us newcomers to her. And he said to me once,
you always have to remember that deep inside Marian is the young woman standing up to a sheriff
in a small Southern town. That story was about Marian’s courage, it was about her defiance, it was about a good kind of stubbornness, of building a line because you
knew in your own core being that it divided right from wrong. And of course that was a
story that taught me a lot about Marian, but as
I’ve thought about it, it also captured something
she was teaching us about ourselves. That each of us needs to find
and define that stubborn core. In these last two years of
the Trump administration, that lesson has been
constantly in my mind. A second lesson that all of
us at CDF of course absorbed, and Jim has touched on this,
was Marian’s big project. Placing child advocacy at the center of a racial and economic justice agenda. She placed children at the
center for two reasons. Because of who they are,
their vulnerability, the moral demand that we
pay attention to them, and also because sympathy
for children offers a way of engaging the broader public in caring about children’s families and communities. CDF’s goal was that people’s
moral and emotional reaction to the suffering of
children would help bridge racial and class divides
and lead to solutions. So in keeping with this aim,
Marian always viewed children in the context of their
parents, their families, and their communities. She and CDF have been a model to the rest of the child advocacy world, which is a world that can
sometimes blur parents almost out of the picture, or look for solutions that bypass them. I remember when I was at CDF
how valuable, for example, I found the reports we
did on young parents, which showed that young children’s poverty arises in part from
the inadequate earnings of young adults. The good news is that
I learned that lesson. It stuck with me after I left, and in our work at the Center
for Law and Social Policy, we’ve been analyzing the census data for each of the last few
years to look at poverty among young adults. Young adults with children in particular. But the bad news is that the
grim result remains true today. Our analysis of the most
recent Census Bureau poverty data showed that fully one in five young adult parents under
age 30 lives in poverty. So the persistence of
this and other grim news about children and about their parents, which others have alluded to, does raise a question
about the effectiveness of centering advocacy on children. Does the bad news undermine this powerful, and extraordinary, and influential insight about child advocacy
as a driver for change? It can be easy to give up hope, especially now when attacks on children, particularly children
in immigrant families and children of color, are so widespread and hate-filled. But I know it won’t surprise Marian, who knows I’m an optimist, that I remain convinced
that advocacy for children and their families is a critical thread, a critical lever, for reform. For one thing, despite
the disappointments, there have been important successes, even in these past two years. Successes where children’s experiences have powerfully moved people in politics. Perhaps most dramatically,
recently in the outcry against the separation of
children from their parents at the border. For another thing, the
moral urgency of advocacy for children remains. Children are the poorest Americans. Children’s dire circumstances
continue to call on us to persist in fixing the damage. And finally, no single
strategy for reform of policy, and of law, has ever been
sufficient in itself. So that’s the wrong standard for success. Marian’s core insight about the power of advocating for children
doesn’t transform the nation all by itself, but that was
never a reasonable expectation. It remains indispensable
many, many decades after her initial framing. But in these last few
months of political turmoil, I’ve thought most of
all about a third lesson that Marian taught me. Her commitment to both long-term vision and immediate, call it
incremental, change. In my first few months at CDF, which were also my first
months in Washington, D.C., I remember feeling honored and
awed when Marian invited me, as a staff person, to come to
a dinner that she was hosting at her home for important thought leaders, heads of organizations,
lots of important people, in Washington, D.C. At the end of the evening, I was a lot less awed by all those important thought leaders. And I was a lot less awed by Washington, but I was more awed by Marian. And the reason was, that
I felt truly grateful to work for someone whose
vision was not bounded by what was possible in
the current Congress. It’s that sense of history
that Jim talked about, her sense of the sweep of American history telling her that the limits
that seem like iron today may crumble tomorrow. But at the same time Marian never believed in holding off on doing good today in favor of perfection ten years from now. An old friend of mine
who worked with Marian many years ago once told
me a story that resonated with my own experiences. She said there was some
complicated legislative situation, she went to Marian, she said, “Should I take this compromise?” And Marian said, “If
it’s good for children, “you should take it.” So in a moment when so much commentary, so much political opinion,
tries to pit big picture, and visionary reforms, long-term reforms, against so-called
incremental improvements, it is especially important to hold on to this both-end framing. We should not delay improving
people’s lives right now, when we have a chance, and we shouldn’t hold back
from the grand sweep of change over the longer haul. That lesson, among so many others, is one that I owe to Marian. I don’t actually know if the United States will come out of this
perilous time we’re in now with our democracy intact, and with the enormous
public energy for change successfully channeled
to tear down the barriers of poverty and injustice. But if we do, that success
will owe a great deal to Marian’s legacy. Due at least in part to her inspiration to the leaders she has guided, and to the wisdom she
has offered to us all. Thank you so much, Marian. (applause) – Thank you very much. I’d now like to introduce Robert Schwartz. He is the co-founder and
Executive Director Emeritus of the Juvenile Law Center, an organization that advocates
for the rights of children in the Child Welfare and
Juvenile Justice systems. He co-founded the JLC in 1975, and went on to serve as
its Executive Director from 1982 to 2015. He’s also the Beck Chair of Law at the Beasley School of
Law at Temple University. He spent his career defending the rights of Pennsylvania children at the JLC, as well as advocating for institutional and policy reform at both the national and international levels, and we are very grateful
he’s here with us today. Mr. Schwartz. (applause) – Thank you, Dean. As others have said before me, it is indeed an honor for me
to join friends and colleagues who I have admired for so long. I shouldn’t say for so long, because it’s a reminder of how
long we’ve been doing this. Marian has taught and inspired
me and countless colleagues, many of whom have passed
through NYU’s doors. It is fitting, indeed,
that we celebrate Marian at this law school, with it’s unparalleled
history of advocating for the rights of and the wellbeing of children and families. When I was young, before
so many of us turned gray, I was, as the Dean said, part of a team that founded
Juvenile Law Center. That was 1975. We were influenced by a
one-year-old, bright yellow, paperback edition of the
Harvard Educational Review. That volume, on the rights of
children, was breathtaking. There were articles by Walter Mondale, Hillary Rodham, Peter
Edelman, Mary Joe Bain, and a dozen other luminaries. The article that bewitched me most, as I took my first
toddling steps as a lawyer, was an interview with Marian. The opening question to her was, “You recently announced the
formation of a new organization, “the Children’s Defense Fund. “Can you tell us what it
is and why it was created?” “CDF,” Marian said, “is
an attempt to create “a viable, long-range institution
to bring about reforms “for children. “If they are to receive fair
treatment and recognition “in this country, “children require the same
kind of planned, systematic, “and sustained advocacy,
legal and otherwise, “that the NAACP Legal
Defense and Education Fund “instigated for blacks
three decades or more ago.” And we heard about that
from Elaine so eloquently. That also resonated in the early days of Juvenile Law Center, where we saw ourselves as building on the Civil Rights Movement. Marian in 1974 went further, identifying half a dozen issues that she would pursue from the outset, including exclusion of
children from school, and reform of the juvenile justice system. Marian’s issues, as was so often the case, would become Juvenile Law Center’s. I was also excited to
see the word fund appear in CDF’s name, only to be disappointed, Elaine, when I learned that CDF wasn’t
a funding source after all. In the years that followed, Marian built a political powerhouse. She did it with a stellar CDF staff, many of whom are here tonight. She did it by finding strategic allies, by building coalitions, by
mobilizing parents and advocates, interested citizens, people of faith, and people who had faith in children. Marian’s CDF was a force on Capitol Hill. As a young lawyer in the early 1980s, I was excited when CDF asked me to testify about reducing the use of foster care before Tom Downey’s House
Ways and Means subcommittee. CDF gave me my first taste
of testifying in Congress. Marian and her staff knew
how to build a record that a progressive Congress could use. Marian also helps folks
like me gain our place in the world of child advocacy. She wasn’t worried about
turf, Marian wanted results. And she was happy to bring a
callow advocate like me along, as long as I advanced the cause. In 1992, Marian published a book, The Measure of Our Success:
A Letter to My Children and Yours. It’s a slender, wise volume. I got my copy at one of the
annual national conferences that Marian convened
to mobilize her people. In this book, Marian wrote that
she learned from her parents that service is the
rent we pay for living. She wrote that in her family,
there was no talk of burnout. In The Measure of Our Success, Marian also observed that
it, “does not take character, “intellect, or talent to
inherit a million dollars, “or to be born white or male.” One of Peter and Marian’s
amazing sons, Jonah, wrote the forward to The
Measure of Our Success. Jonah wrote that his mother was, “probably one of the most
honest people in the world.” Indeed, honesty is one
of Marian’s many virtues. In modern jargon, one
associates Marian’s brand with honesty, excellence,
intellect, passion, and justice. It was no accident that
Juvenile Law Center asked Marian to sit in 2000
for our 25th anniversary video. We knew that Marian’s presence alone would reflect well on us. She shared her brand. I can tell you that I was deeply moved when I heard Marian talk. If Marian Wright Edelman
was saying good things about Juvenile Law Center and me, well, maybe we really were making
a difference in the world. In 2014, on the anniversary of
the 1974 Educational Review, and CDF’s founding, Harvard’s Graduate School of Education brought Marian together with
practitioners and scholars. We reflected on topics dear to Marian, a list of CDF’s greatest hits. Prenatal and infant health,
early childhood care, school reform, vulnerable
children, child poverty. I was there as a juvenile
justice practitioner. The symposium glimpsed back, but in keeping with Marian’s
way of looking at things, it was largely devoted to the future. Participants took ideas that
were once revolutionary, ideas like Head Start, or a youth’s entitlement to due process when charged with a crime, and showed how we could make them better, comprehensive, permanent. The symposium produced a book, the third that I’m
citing tonight to capture the arc of Marian’s time at CDF. It is called Improving the
Odds For America’s Children, Future Directions in Policy and Practice. Marian wrote the afterword, an ironic title for an essay
about the years to come. “As we look toward the
future,” Marian wrote, “CDF remains steadily focused
on helping catalyze and mount “the transforming nonviolent
social justice movement “for children our nation
desperately needs. “And on pursuing justice
for children, and the poor, “with urgency and persistence.” Urgency and persistence. In today’s high tech world,
there are very few people who could pursue anything
for more than a few minutes with urgency and persistence. Marian has done it for decades. In her 1992 book, The
Measure of Our Success, Marian told a story about Sojourner Truth. “One day during an anti-slavery speech, “she was heckled by an old man. “‘Old woman, do you think
that your talk about slavery “‘does any good? “‘Well, I don’t care any
more for your talk than I do “‘for the bite of a flea.’ “‘Perhaps not,’ Soujourner Truth replied, “‘but the Lord willing,
I’ll keep you scratching.'” A few years ago, Juvenile Law
Center had a small D.C. event to honor Marian and Peter. Marian, I noticed, as Jim Wild mentioned, wore a Sojourner Truth
medal around her neck. Marian is Sojourner Truth’s heir. Marian is in a line of
persistent advocates who have made their
mission the improvement of other people’s lives. If I had a book to sign for Marian today, I would inscribe it the
way she did in my copy of The Measure of Our Success. I would write, “To Marian,
with love and deep gratitude “for all you do for children.” Thank you. (applause) – Thank you very much. I’d now like to introduce Sarah Rosenbaum. Ms. Rosenbaum is currently
the Harold and Jane Hirsch Professor of Health Law and Policy at George Washington University
School of Public Health and Health Services. She also holds professorships in both the University’s School of Law, and its School of Medicine
and Health Sciences. Professor Rosenbaum. (applause) – Well, it’s an incredible
honor to be here, and everybody who’s spoken before me has given you sort of a wonderful
soaring vision of Marian. So, given the hour, and that I’m the second to the last speaker, I’m gonna tell ya two stories. The first story, which I didn’t
put in my written remarks, tells you about Marian as a person. And the second story tells
you about Marian as a leader. So the Marian as a person
story goes like this. It was the end of the summer, 1980. CHAP, which nobody in this room except probably Marian remembers, which was the Carter
administration’s failed Medicaid expansion initiative,
was going down the tubes. And I had a new baby. It was too early to put
her into child care. She went off to a great child care center, but they weren’t ready to take her until she was 60 days old. So, unable to just stay at home, especially since in those days, there was no electronic
connection to anything, I had to go to work. And I couldn’t bear to stay away, because we were losing
this Medicaid expansion, and here I had a baby, and this expansion was all about babies. So I would bring the baby to work, and I was one of the most
loving but incompetent mothers. I just couldn’t figure out how to get my baby to go to sleep. One afternoon, she was
in the cradle screaming, and my office was a couple
of floors above Marian’s. And Marian came upstairs for some reason, and discovered the
screaming baby, and said, “You clearly don’t know
what you’re doing.” So she took the baby, and
about 40 minutes later, I went down to her office
on the second floor. I was by then sort of curious. And her door was closed,
she had gone off somewhere. The door was closed, and there
was a screaming baby inside. I could hear my baby screaming. And there was a sign
on the door that said, “Quiet baby sleeping”. She had a real knack for
teaching you that at some point, when your baby was really tired, and sooner or later
the baby went to sleep, and I came back an hour or so
later, and she’d had a nap. But, she was a most wonderful friend, and just a wonderful human being. And I think in all of the
incredible imagery of Marian, for all that she has accomplished in life, that to me is the most
meaningful part of Marian. Just what a really
wonderful person she is. So now, here’s my story
about working with Marian. Working with her, obviously,
was being a little part of history. Which we appreciated at the time, when we were going through it, although most of us who worked at the Children’s Defense
Fund, we were all little kids. And so we didn’t quite
appreciate what we were given, the honor we were given, when
we were going through it, but we had a good sense. And what we understood was that CDF was, as many people have said now, about altering the course
of events for children in many different areas. And the thing that was
so incredible about CDF was that we could see, even if none of us saw the whole, that Marian had designed
a mosaic in her head for children, and then she’d gone and built
this fantastic organization that was gonna make the
mosaic come into life. And over the course of CDF’s existence, as so many people have alluded to now, the impact that it’s had
is really incalculable. But, our global presence
became evident to all of us, I think, in 1981. So it was January of 1981. President Reagan had just taken office. The Carter administration was history. All of the initiatives were toast. But more important than
being toast, of course, we were on the verge of losing everything. We had achieved a lot of
victories at that point, although really, child health
policy reforms had eluded us, and that was the area I worked in. And then suddenly, we
were facing David Stockman and his black book, which
I’m sure many people in this room remember. I don’t think it’s possible to convey just how frightening that was. He was a brilliant man, he
had assembled this black book. He was walking all around Washington with lists of programs that would go away. And everybody was essentially in despair. But Marian, of course,
wasted no time on despair. She announced, and this
is the way Marian was, she announced that we would
have our own black book. He had a black book,
we’ll have a black book. And that black book would
reintroduce poor children to lawmakers, in case they had forgotten about poor children. It would explain the programs that poor children depended on, and why and how the choices
that they were about to make would matter so much to
children and their families, and ultimately to the nation. The book would do more than
just argue against the cuts. And this was, to me, core
to Marian’s brilliance. We were not, and you
see a lot of this today, we were not just fighting about the cuts. Marian insisted that every chapter lay out the things that had to
be done for children. And we all sort of scratched our heads, thinking we’re barely
holding on to what we’ve got, but every chapter had to
have a positive agenda as well as arguments against the cuts. And putting that book together was an unbelievable experience. So, basically, we were all assembled in this rambling building
that we inhabited. There were rats in the basement. Marian had this wonderful
office on the second floor. And the rest of us sat in these cubbies. And we were given a few days, basically, to put this thing together. We all went off, we all compiled facts, we were called downstairs
to the second floor to give Marian factoids. But the more common thing was that her wonderful assistant Beverly would come upstairs with notes. And the notes would say,
can you get me X or Y? And the notes were totally unintelligible, you couldn’t read anything
Marian wrote down. And you’d sit there and
puzzle over these notes. Just bewildered. We’d sort of make our way through, and this book came together. It came together in great part because CDF had many subject area
experts in various fields, who knew their stuff really well, whether it was education, or child care, or health care, or whatever. And we had Jim, who was
absolutely brilliant, and who, as you could hear tonight, sort of pull us all together
and help with the big picture. And then there was, of course,
the genius Paul Smith, who, you cannot imagine the reams of statistics he made come out of his hat at a time when I think he must have
done it with a slide rule. I mean, we had no equipment. Just, life wasn’t like that. And what ultimately
emerged from all of this was really quite a pathbreaking document. It was produced in record time. Marian told me tonight
that everything is scanned in electronically, so I have to go and
see if it still exists, the first black book. And it was black, it was
this horrible Xerox job. Had our boat on it. And this thing was sock-o
from the moment it hit. I mean, I have people today, I’ve been practicing
now for about 43 years. I have people today who I
worked with way back at CDF, who come up to me and talk
still about the black book. What a watershed it was. It was short. Our books then got much
longer and more involved, and had lots of tables. And Marian would think of
more tables that she wanted. It had an incredible impact, and the impact was not just
the agenda it laid out, and the arguments against the cuts. It was a moment when suddenly
things turned a little. There was a horribly long way to go, and we ended up losing a fair
amount of ground in the ’80s. We gained a lot of ground,
but we lost a lot of ground. But, you could feel the sigh of relief when that book appeared. That there was a way to fight back, and you could fight back effectively, and mitigate damage, and
even make some gains. And by the mid-80s we
were making many gains. Things got lost, but
other things got found. I know our child health work the best, because that’s what I did at CDF. It is difficult to overstate the contribution Marian
made to child health policy. It was a long time coming. The ’70s were a time of
great research and effort, and nothing went anywhere. And her great contribution
was not only spearheading the effort to take the Medicaid program, which once covered about
10 million children, and today pays for half of all the births in the United States, and covers 40% of all children. Not poor children, all children. Although that tells you how
poor children are today. But, not just the vision
of turning Medicaid into true public insurance,
which it has become, but being able to navigate two unbelievable political perils. One was the eternal peril of Medicaid. Medicaid is always on
the verge of blowing up. It’s the biggest program,
and there was the problem with navigating budgets, and being able to put an argument together that would get us through
the budgeting process so that we could move this legislation. But the other and much
more serious problem, which of course is with us to this day, is the problem of Medicaid and abortion. From the time that Roe
v. Wade was decided, Medicaid has been in the
crosshairs of American law, as one of the great vehicles
for essentially eliminating the means by which women would
secure a fundamental right. And she was able to navigate this. She was able to navigate between what was the terrible, desperate need to fight back against the stripping
away of women’s access to essential services, but the need to allow advances for women, because of the pregnancy and postpartum, and ultimately preventive services gains that we could make with Medicaid expansion and children. It was not possible under
the Carter administration to move the Medicaid legislation because it was hobbled by abortion riders. And Marian more than anybody else, in her special relationship
with Henry Hyde, made that possible. It was something that
I appreciated greatly as we went through it, but came to appreciate even more deeply as the years have gone by, just what it took to navigate
our way through that, what could only be Scylla
and Charybdis cubed. It took 25 years to complete
the Medicaid expansion cycle, and to add CHIP later on
as a companion program. But, the amazing thing
is that these advances have proved to be unbelievably durable. It is now a given that
children in the United States should not be without health insurance. I cannot tell you, in my lifetime, you know, I’m 68 almost, so it’s a rather short period of time. In my lifetime as a lawyer, we have gone from it’s
perfectly acceptable for millions of children
not to be insured, to every child is insured, of course. And based on those advances, we built the great advances
of the Affordable Care Act, and public insurance for all Americans. And so really, Marian deserves the thanks not just of children,
but of all Americans. (applause) – Thank you very much. And our final dedicator this evening is Professor Marty Guggenheim. Marty is the Fiorello LaGuardia Professor of Clinical Law here at NYU. He has co-directed our Family
Defense Clinic since 1973. He’s been a real leader of
our faculty for decades now, and was also a student here at NYU Law. Marty. (applause) – It’s a great pleasure
and honor to be here. I’m embarrassed to acknowledge the truth that I’ve never met Marian
Wright Edelman personally, until today. I’ve never quite understood
how that could be true, since I’ve dedicated my
life to children’s rights, and I worked very closely
with her husband, Peter, for many years. But I thank Kathryn, and it
is assumed we knew each other, but I was more than
thrilled to be asked to say some words to honor
your remarkable career. This is always a very special
event at the law school. Annual Survey’s yearly
dedication invariably chooses an eminently worthy person. And as amazing as each of them is, they feel honored to be associated with the brilliant men and women that are on this distinguished list. And reviewing just some of the individuals who have been honored
before gives you a sense of what I mean. William Brennan, Thurgood
Marshall, Harry Blackman, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, Sonia
Sotomayor, Hillary Clinton, Janet Reno, Ronald
Dworkin, Anthony Amsterdam, Lawrence Tribe, Desmond Tutu. Just some of the names. You may have noticed a decided preference for important judges and
brilliant legal scholars, along with a nod to public officials, but no one, no one
before, has led the life, lived the life of public service. I can’t call you Marian, I’m sorry, I’ll call you Dr. Edelman, because your 103 honorary degrees. By the way, how many of us,
when we Google our names, can find the title Top 25
Quotes by Marian Wright Edelman? She can. And one of the sites says, of 173. But we honor you outside of
the Academy, the courthouse, or as a public official. You’re unique, and I am so
proud of the Annual Survey for recognizing how special you are, and what you mean to this country. What you did was create
the most important NGO of its kind in the world. You set out to change
how we treat children, with a strong commitment
to improving the lives of the least important
people in this country. And that’s not children,
that’s poor children of color. That’s been your compass of true North, and I know no one who has walked that walk with the integrity, and
commitment, and vision, and brilliance that compares to you, and to what you’ve accomplished. The sad truth about the United States is that it is both the
richest country in the world, and ranks at the very
bottom in sharing its wealth with children. And one of your methods which
I’ve always so appreciated, is your shaming effort of America. Because when I’m feeling blue,
I consult the CDF website, and I get to read the
truth about our country, spoken in a voice of
clarity that is unique. And I ask the students
in the room who mean to honor Marian Wright Edelman’s life to consult that website this week, and learn things about this
country that you may not know. But that it is important that you learn. The shaming includes an annual report that ranks each state in
terms of child poverty. There’s a chart of children
living in extreme poverty. A chart of children under six. There’s a chart of children
living in poverty by race. Consider this. In only four states in the
country is the percentage of black children living
in poverty below 20. In ten states, the
percentage of black children living in poverty is greater than 40%, ranging as high as 75% in Idaho. The charts are broken down by race, including white, non-Hispanic children. In Ohio, 55% of black children
under six live in poverty. If you don’t know that, it’s
because you haven’t followed the work of Marian Wright Edelman. She screams this out daily,
but few of us are aware of it. Or, too few of us are aware of it. 40% of Hispanic children
in Ohio live in poverty. I could go on, but I
won’t, given the hour, to talk about the truths that Marian Wright Edelman speaks daily through her website, and through the work. The list of things that
CDF has accomplished is remarkably long. The list of things it needs to accomplish is considerably longer. And I know there’s nobody in this room who believes that and
understands that more than you. It’s what makes you so special. You know you’re not special. You’re wrong, but you know that. Here are some of her quotes. “I’m sure I’m impatient sometimes. “I sure do get angry. “I think it’s outrageous how hard it is “to get this country to feed its children, “and to take care of its children, “and to give them a decent education. “We have the capacity to make sure “that every mother has prenatal care, “yet we don’t do it. “What is it about America? “It says we don’t value
children and families, “we’re hypocrites. “Child poverty and neglect, “racial disparities in
systems that serve children, “and the cradle to prison
pipeline are not acts of God, “they are America’s immoral,
political, and economic choices “that can and must be changed
with strong political, “corporate, and community leadership.” Those are the focused and crucial ideas of Marian Wright Edelman, and that’s why you’re my hero. Thank you. (applause) – I’d like to invite Mrs.
Edelman and Dean Morrison to the stage now. Mrs. Edelman, on behalf
of the New York University Annual Survey of American Law, I would like to dedicate
the 76th volume to you, in honor of your
contributions to American law. Thank you. – Thank you. (applause) – Do you want to take this? Just hold it up for one picture. – One photo. – I’m not sure I recognize who all you all been talking about tonight. I feel like the luckiest
person in the world, having been born at the
intersection of great events, and great people, and great role models. And everything I do today
comes out of my childhood. I had great parents, and
community co-parents. And I always have
something to fight about, and to be against, and to be for. And my daddy and momma said that God runs a full employment economy. And that if you just follow the need, you’ll never lack for a cause
worth living and dying for. And so I do exactly what my parents, and my community co-parents, and all the great role models of the time. They drug me out everywhere to listen to the Howard Thurmans,
the Mordecai Johnsons, to the Mary McCleod-Bethunes,
to all these. It was always clear that God did not make two classes of children. And I was a rebel from the
time I was four or five. When I went out to Bell’s Department Store with my Sunday school teacher, and I didn’t know the difference between white and black water. And I went to it, and drank out
of the white water fountain. And she jerked me away in terror, and I said, what’s the matter? And I took great pleasure
in going to switch the signs wherever I saw them, all over, and got great satisfaction from that. But I guess I always sort of, every issue that the Children’s
Defense Fund works on came out of my childhood. And I don’t want to see that
continue in this nation, but before I do that, I just wanna, nobody builds an institution alone, nobody builds a movement alone, and one of my prayers from the beginning has been send me who You want, God, to do what You need to have done. And boy did He send me some gifted friends and gifted people. And I have always felt
very blessed to have been at the intersection of great
events and great role models. And it’s miraculous. I mean, I heard Mrs. Bethune,
when I was seven, say, “The blacker the berry,
the sweeter the juice.” I’d never heard a woman
command men that way. I used to have to go every year to the Columbia, South
Carolina, auditorium and sit on hard folding seats
for four and a half hours when Mordecai Johnson,
the President of Howard, would speak with an intermission. And we would groan. Dr. Benjamin E. Mays had
to come and stay with us, because there were no
public accommodations for the people who traveled. But I was always exposed
to great role models. But the model was, you don’t
like the way the world is, you change it. And I can cite every issue that
the Children’s Defense Fund relates to now today, to
something that happened. I can’t stand seeing a
child excluded from anything that any other child has access to. Every child is sacred, and
that was just built in. My good family had,
there was a big accident in front of our church,
which was on a highway. And the ambulance came, and found that the white truck driver who
had hit the migrant car was not wounded, and drove away. And left the people who
were lying in the highway, the black migrant workers
laying there without help. Little Johnny Harens, who
lived two houses down from me, with his grandma Ruth, died
because he stepped on a nail, and tetanus shots were
not available back then, and I am obsessed with
immunization of children. We didn’t have decent recreation, but my parents built a
playground behind the church. If you see something
that needs to be done, it’s not out there,
you do it for yourself. And then you help others. But we didn’t have a lot of recreation, we built a playground behind the church. But then, my playmate around the corner jumped off the bridge
into the local creek, which was right down the road, and broke his neck and died. But then we learned later, as I grew up, that the creek was the outlet
for the hospital sewage. And we got hand me down
books from the white schools. We always had books in
our house before we had a second pair of shoes. And when Old Man Rattick
got what I now know as Alzheimer’s, and began
to wander the streets, my parents began a home for
the aged across the street, and all of us children
had to cook and clean. We didn’t like it at
the time, not one bit, but that’s how we learned that
everybody was our neighbor. And we called our mother,
had to close her down, we still have a home for the aged. Everything my mother and
father touched still is there. And my nieces, grand-nieces,
carry on the home for the aged. The church is still there. But I learned the importance of not asking why doesn’t somebody do
something about an injustice. You ask what I can do. And so I grew up with
this community of parents and co-parents who believed in God, and said that God ran a
full employment economy. And if you just follow the need, you’d never lack for meaning in life. And that has certainly been true. So when people say, why
do you do what you do? I say, I do exactly what my
parents and my co-parents did, and my grandparents did. And it wouldn’t have occurred
to me not to do that. When I went to Mississippi,
boy, you talk about courage. I mean, the courage, I mean, you would file your little
LDF school desegregation case, and the next day, 20 names were tacked up on the telegram posts, and they were evicted from
their houses, and shot at. But they want their children
to have a better life, and be able to go to school. I’ve never seen such courage. And I tell you, every time
I thought I was scared, or couldn’t do this, Miss
Hamenols would get me up at three in the morning, and Mrs. Maybrother-Carter
would get me up. I’ve never seen such courage, and I’ve always wanted to be half as good as those people, the grit. Everything my mother and father started, with the home for the aged, or the, I have 12 foster sisters and brothers. I would wake up and I would have another child in my bedroom. So I just did what my parents did, it never occurred to me. So I feel so lucky to
have been born who I was, where I was, with the parents
and community co-parents who built a cocoon around
us, who taught us history. We had oratorical contests, and we were gonna put oratorical contests in our Freedom Schools. I can repeat Ralph Bunche’s 1946 speech at Fisk University about
the barriers of race can be surmounted. But we need to create the world we want, and I had empowering parents
around, and great faith. And I went for years and
years in our church vestibule with my daddy, and he always had books. We always had books in our house, we didn’t have a second pair of shoes, we always had books. And I’m gonna put it
in this year’s report, that we’re gonna put
out in the next month. But in Herb Block, we
did a cartoon that was very close to that. But every day in my formative
years, until I was 14 or 15, I would walk into the church vestibule, and there was this picture. Newspaper editorial cartoon. Wasn’t a cartoon, whatever you call it. Whatever Herb Block does,
and people like that. But there was this picture
of Thanksgiving occasion, and hordes of brown, sunken-jawed people, hungry, starving, and a table laden with unbelievable amount of food. And turkeys, and hams. And a white family sitting
there, and the caption was, “Shall we say grace?” And those kind of things
sear in a child’s mind, but the message, again, is when you see something
needs to be done, don’t ask why somebody
doesn’t do something, you ask why you don’t do something. And God runs a full employment economy. I do today what my parents
and community co-parents did. What those incredibly courageous
people in Mississippi did, because they wanted their
children to have a better life. I had the best education in the world at the Legal Defense Fund, which is the spawn and inspiration for the Children’s Defense Fund. And I wouldn’t do anything else. And I always try to
make sure that the baby sits in the middle of the table when policy discussions are being had. And if the policy is
going to hurt that child, or not help that child, or not be just for that
child, then you fight it. So God does run a full employment economy. And if you just stick with it, you can just make things happen. And we’ve got a long way to go. We’re gonna end child
poverty in this country. It’s obscene. We’re gonna break up that
cradle to prison pipeline. And we’re gonna either do it or we’re gonna continue
to slide backwards, but I think it’s the
Achilles Heel of this nation, and I think it’s the most important work. But I just feel so blessed
to have had the chance to make a difference with
such extraordinary talent. One of my prayers has been,
Lord, send me who we need to do what You want. And He has sent me this
bountiful, gifted group of folk, and one I wanna just
single out tonight again, Paul Smith, who was our
genius research director. Who never gave me a bad fact. Never gave me a wrong fact. And who could just make
the most complicated thing so simple. And he looked like Einstein. His budget never increased
one penny in the 30 years he worked with us. But he was indispensable, important, and who’s not sitting
here is Mary Lee Ellen, because she’s taking care of business with our policy director now. These great, gifted people
whom you have heard. Nobody builds an
institution by themselves. And Elaine, thank you. So I just have felt so blessed. And I just wanted to end with a prayer, because it comes out
of I’m a praying lady. And it’s by a white
journalist out in Tennessee, named Ina Hughes, but I think
it captures what we need to be doing in this country, because it’s our Achilles Heel. We’re never gonna be a great nation, we’re never gonna be a moral nation, unless we create a
decent chance to succeed, and a level, fair, just
playing field for every child. And she says we pray for,
and I say we will fight for, and advocate for who sneak
popsicles before supper, who erase holes in math workbooks, who can never find their shoes. But we’ve got to pray,
and stand up and fight for children who stare at
photographers behind barbed wire, and it’s unbelievable what
is going on in this country now with this wall. It’s just Biblical evil, and we’re just simply gonna have to decide we are not going backwards. We are not, we’re just not. Who can’t bound down the street
in a new pair of sneakers, who never “counted potatoes,” who are born in places where
we wouldn’t be caught dead, who’d never go to the circus, and who live in an X-rated world. Let’s commit to praying,
and standing, and fighting, and voting for children who bring us sticky kisses
and fistfuls of dandelions, Who hug us in a hurry and
forget their lunch money. And let’s pray, and stand,
and fight, and advocate for children who never get dessert, who never have a safe
blanket to drag behind them, who watch their parents watch them die, who can’t find any bread to steal, who don’t have any rooms to clean up, whose pictures aren’t
on anybody’s dresser, and whose monsters are real. Lets pray and advocate for children who spend all their
allowance before Tuesday, throw tantrums in the grocery
store and pick at their food, who like ghost stories, who shove dirty clothes under the bed, and never rinse out the tub. But let’s also stand up
and fight for children who don’t like to be kissed
in front of the carpool, children who never get a
visit from the tooth fairy, who squirm in church or temple
and scream in the phone. But we also must make
sure that we stand up, and pray, and laugh with
children, and make them smile, and those children have things
that only make them cry. Let’s pray and accept
responsibility for children whose nightmares come in the daytime, who will eat anything, who have never seen a dentist, who aren’t spoiled by anybody, who go to bed hungry and
cry themselves to sleep, who live and move, and have no being. We pray for children who want to be carried and for children who must be carried, for children we never give
up on, who are our own, and for children who
never get a second chance. Let’s pray for those children we smother, but also those who will
grab the hand of anyone kind enough to offer it. This is the Achilles Heel,
both morally and economically. Who lets preschool
children be killed by guns more frequently than
law enforcement officers in the line of business? What kind of nation does this? And so I think that there’s
never been something that is not worth living and dying for in the cause for children, and
the cause for racial justice, and the cause for economic justice. And I just, it’s been a privilege
to carry on the tradition of the people who taught me that your faith is something you live, and God does not make two
distinctions between children. And so thank you for this honor. Thank you, young people. (applause) – Well thank all of you. As Marty said, Ms. Edelman,
it is a storied list of dedicatees that you join today. But really you bring honor to them, and you bring honor to our school, too, so thank you. And congratulations and thank you to the students of the Annual Survey for making a spectacular choice. You’ve done us proud. And Ms. Edelman, you’ve
done us a great honor in joining us here today. So thank you all for being with us. I hope you’ll join us
for our reception here, and continue celebrating. Thank you. (applause)

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