When Marian Wright Edelman came to speak at USC’s Gould School of Law, I had no idea what a treat I was in for. I had received an email for the event from the Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics, promoting her lunchtime chat as an opportunity to hear firsthand about the challenges she had to overcome in order to establish the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). Edelman is a legendary civil rights icon and advocate for children who has such an incredible heart for all people, regardless of the lot they were dealt in life.
As an undergraduate student studying at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, Edelman joined the civil rights movement by participating in sit-ins and other nonviolent demonstrations. She faced much resistance as she aspired to Yale Law School, became the first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, and then later founded the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Educational Fund in the same state. Her relationship with Martin Luther King, Jr. has also impacted her journey, propelling her to relocate to Washington, D.C. and then establish the Children’s Defense Fund in 1973. In its 45 years of history, the CDF has grown exponentially. Her organization is now the nation’s leading advocacy and research center for issues concerning children. Her passionate championing on the behalf of children is as strong as ever today, as she spoke of her fierce commitment to seeing all youth be given the healthy foundations they deserve.
Though I admittedly didn’t know much about Edelman or the CDF prior to attending her talk, I now have the utmost respect for her and the organization. As someone who hopes to pursue humanitarian nonprofit work in the long-term, I am always inspired by a courageous individual who is able to make substantial changes and improvements to an issue of concern. It is an intimidating reality that most people want to serve others, but never take that first step to start. Individuals like Edelman demonstrate that with persistence and drive, even those disadvantaged or neglected by society – those who are told they cannot – are able to leave an everlasting mark on the world and its people.