A Beautiful Idealist Speaks to the City Club

What a contrast between the City Club from one Friday forum to the next.  Friday May 22, they had the elegant idealist, Marian Wright Edelman who was carrying on the King Legacy then the next week featured the distorter of the King Legacy, Jason Riley of the Manhattan Institute and Fox News.  He took statistics out of context to fit a conservative political agenda with a message that seemed to be, "Why don't African Americans criticize other African Americans more?"  Riley built an elaborate philosophy around his theory that blacks were better off when they were oppressed and faced open racism in the 1930s to the 1960s before government started meddling. His conservative slant on society seemed to blossom  because his young niece innocently commented on his academic way of speaking.  There was so much wrong with Riley's premise, his facts, his assumptions and his lack of recommendations that I would prefer to focus on the more responsive, hopeful and practical speech of Marian Wright Edelman. 

Edelman as President of the Children's Defense Fund focused on the reality of life in America with the second highest childhood poverty rate in the industrial world.  She seemed to be dealing in the real world on the streets of Cedar or Kinsman and not the world seen from the newsrooms of CNN or the Wall Street Journal.  She gave some tangible and factual solutions to turn around what she characterized as the "moral disgrace" of child poverty with the promotion of their "Leave No Child Behind" strategy.  She characterized childhood poverty as the "greatest threat to our security" facing our nation, and provided real practical public policy that could reduce poverty.   She wanted to see real solutions for the 6.5 million kids facing extreme poverty with a big focus on housing stability (huge increase in housing vouchers) which appealed to me, of course.  Wright Edelman focused on the poor communities such as Cleveland and Baltimore where 1 in 2 minority kids are poor.  She pushed for more access to jobs that pay a fair wage in communities where people live.  She put a figure on solving this problem of childhood poverty in the US at $77.2 Billion.

Ms. Wright Edelman is an amazing woman who helped the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr with the Poor People's Campaign in 1968.  After his assassination, Edelman could have curled up and retreated to academia giving up on social activism.  Instead, she focused her attention on lifting up children and becoming one of their loudest and most effective advocates for kids in the United States.  Wright Edelman urges more government involvement in ending childhood poverty and more resources (taxes) going to this problem.  She said, "We don't have a money problem, we have a morality problem."  

Specifics that were included in the Wright Edelman presentation included more taxes for the wealthy, more estate taxes and helping teachers make more money while CEOs make less money.  She stressed the need to "reorder our national values and national priorities" to reflect children as a the first priority. It was especially encouraging to hear her focus on not leaving any child behind including homeless kids, those in foster care and those born into the toughest environment.   Both Riley and Edelman quoted Martin Luther King Jr. with Wright Edelman wanting to speak up for children and hold officials accountable.  The most attractive aspect of the speech were the specific examples of how to child advocacy turns around the lives of individuals.  Edelman talked about specific examples of young people who were successful after graduating from classes in the juvenile detention center or various enrichment activities that are successful for pre-school kids.  She showed some examples of civic minded adults who came out of the foster care system or benefited from the freedom schools. 

The Wright Edelman speech was an inspirational speech to give advocates their marching orders: focus on lifting up children and we will see an improvement in the quality of life for all.  The Riley speech was annoying and just made me uncomfortable that there was not a rebuttal speech given at the same time by Zach or Amy from Policy Matters to provide context and proper framing for the statistics given.  I guess that is what defines the "Citadel of free speech": even the propagandist for libertarian ideas deserves a turn at the microphone.   I really enjoyed the Wright Edelman speech and would encourage listening or watching it on the City Club website.

Brian Davis

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