Renowned child advocate inspires UNI audience

Marian Wright Edelman

UNI students attended Marian Wright Edelman's presentation in conjunction with the "Reaching for Higher Ground" series.

Imagine a family blessed with six children. Five of them have enough to eat and comfortable rooms to sleep. One does not. The sixth child is often hungry and cold.

The family takes five of its children to get all of their shots; regular health checkups before they get sick and they have immediate access to healthcare when illness strikes, but the sixth child is ignored.

Imagine five of the family’s children being excited about learning, and looking forward to finishing high school, going to college and getting a job, but the sixth child is falling further and further behind.

This is just part of a compelling story guest speaker Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), presented to a full audience at the University of Northern Iowa on Oct. 14. Hosted by UNI’s Center for Multicultural Education (CME), Edelman presented “The Future of Our Children in a Post-9/11 World,” in conjunction with UNI's “Reaching for Higher Ground” series.

Before her presentation, Michael Blackwell, director of the CME, took a few moments to tell of a life that has inspired him for decades.

“I have been looking from afar at the life of Marian Wright Edelman for a long time,” said Blackwell. “If people don’t want to leave this presentation a person who wants to change the world, then you should leave right now.”

Known to some as the “greatest child advocate in the world,” Edelman spoke of a country where one child drops out of school every eight seconds and is killed by a gun every three hours.

“The greatest threat to America’s future comes from within,” said Edelman.

Marian Wright Edelman

Michael Blackwell, director of the CME, says a few words about guest speaker Marian Wright Edelman's life before her presentation.

The attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001, fueled Edelman’s desire to educate our country about the people, especially the children, who still live in poverty in the “richest nation on Earth.”

“That sixth child, the child that doesn’t have access to healthcare, proper shelter or food, and falls further and further behind in school and eventually drops out is the result of poverty,” said Edelman. “Children have only one childhood; they need to be happy, healthy and have hope.”

More than 46 million people in the U.S. live below the poverty line; 16 million are children and more than 5 million are under the age of five. During her presentation at UNI, Edelman outlined the steps she feels America needs to take to change the course of poverty.

“We need to look at who we are as people and build on what we know,” said Edelman. “We need to change from ‘how can we afford to eliminate poverty, to how can we afford not to.’”

An example of Edelman’s efforts to end child poverty is the CDF Freedom Schools program. The program provides summer and after-school enrichment that helps children fall in love with reading, increases their self-esteem and generates more positive attitudes toward learning. More than 9,600 children in 84 cities and 29 states participated in Freedom Schools in 2010 and Edelman hopes that number will only climb in the years to come.

As her time with the UNI audience was coming to an end, Edelman chose to close with lessons from Noah’s Ark.

“Don’t be discouraged by how things are, we’re all in the same boat,” said Edelman. “And remember, Noah’s Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic was built by professionals.”