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Marian Wright Edelman, Former Counsel to Dr. Martin Luther King, Talks to VOA


Marian Wright Edelman, former counsel to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – whose birthday we commemorate this week – says she feels very fortunate to have been at the “intersection of great leaders and great events.” Ms. Edelman, who is herself a champion for civil rights, is founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, one of the nation’s strongest voices for children and families.

Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, Ms. Edelman says she first met Dr. King as a student when he came to speak at her college and offered two pieces of advice: to “keep moving” and that “you don’t have to be able to see the whole stairway to take the first step.” She describes him as a “very intense presence” in her life from 1960 to 1968. She says Dr. King saw clearly the triple evils that would undermine America unless they were confronted – racism, excessive materialism, and militarism.

Marian Wright Edelman says America has made great progress and Dr. King would be “very proud” to see that “we’ve got a woman and a black running for president,” black cabinet members, and that the number of elective officials has gone from a few hundred to almost 10,000. But he would not be pleased that “we have almost 13 million poor children, 47 million uninsured Americans, a cradle-to-prison pipeline in which one in six black boys is going to go off to prison in his lifetime.” Marian Wright Edelman says that, while education is the ticket to everything, today 88% of black fourth graders and 86 % of Latino fourth graders, and 61 % of white fourth graders cannot read at grade level. Ms. Edelman says Americans would much rather celebrate Dr. King than follow him, but it is really “time to finish what he began.”

Marian Wright Edelman says “it is time to end poverty, starting with child poverty.” She says that no other industrialized nation “lets its children go poor.” And the priority for choosing any presidential candidate should be that he or she would ensure that all 9.4 million uninsured children get health care. Furthermore, it is essential that there be equal educational opportunity on a nondiscriminatory basis. To bring that about, Ms. Edelman says, “We have to build a movement.” And while who is in leadership positions is important, what happens will depend on what citizens do. She predicts that three groups will be crucial to building this movement – women, high school and college students, and the “faith networks that have lost their prophetic voice.” What it will require, Ms. Edelman says, is resetting “America’s moral compass.” She believes there are “no military solutions” to these problems, and she says Dr. King was so clear that the choice is “not between violence and non-violence but between violence and non-existence.”

Martin Luther King Day this year is Monday, January 20. Regarding his vision, Ms. Edelman says, she is “so tired of people looking for a savior.” Dr. King is not going to come back, and “we can’t wait for the next charismatic leader; the job is up to us.” She says it’s about responsible, disciplined citizens who do justice every day, who vote and who hold their leaders accountable. And, she adds, “We are the solution to our problems.”

For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.