Marian-Wright-Edelman_DC

Marian Wright Edelman

Children must have at least one person who believes in them.  It could be a counselor, a teacher, a preacher, a friend.  It could be YOU!  You never know when a little love and a little support will plant a small seed of home.  MWE

For more than 45 years, the Children’s Defense Fund has lived by a special mantra. ‘Every child is precious and full of potential.’  Committed and passionate leadership and staff of the organization have worked relentlessly in helping lift children out of poverty, protect them from violence, and ensure they have the opportunities they need to thrive and succeed. Should we all not be following a similar mission when it comes to the love, nurturing, and guidance our children need, especially in such unpredictable times?  The organization’s vision is a lot more clear: ‘Giving every child a healthy start, a quality early childhood experience, a level educational playing field, stable homes, and safe communities free from violence.’ 

The founder and president emerita of the Fund, Marian Wright Edelman describes herself as an American activist for children’s rights.  She has been an advocate for the disadvantaged, civil, and human rights her entire professional life. She often reminds the nation of a basic truism it appears to have forgotten, that is:  service to others is simply the rent we pay for living. 

“Everyone of us has a stake in our national transformation away from selfish lives and towards commitment to others; success defined by character rather than consumption; and the quality of the future dependent on our own actions and how we raise our children, wrote Edelman in her 1992 book, “The Measure of Success:  A Letter to My Children and to Yours.”  A nation that does not stand for its children does not stand for anything and will not stand tall in the future.” 

The Twenty-Five Lessons detailed in her book are just as applicable 30 years later if not more so because of the critical and unprecedented nature of current times.  From as far back as I can remember after the book’s release, my students were introduced to most of these lessons at the beginning of each class period.  Also used were motivating video clips and articles about young people who were about the business of overcoming, learning, and serving their community.  The instruction and content delivery were about engagement and giving young people a reason to want to come to school. 

Twenty-Five Lessons for Life

There is no free lunch.  Don’t feel entitled to anything you don’t sweat and struggle for.

Set goals and work quietly and systematically toward them.

Assign yourself.

Never work just for money or for power.  They won’t save your soul or help you sleep at night.

Don’t be afraid of taking risks or of being criticized.

Take parenting and family life seriously and insist that those you work for and who represent you do.

Remember that your wife is not mother or your maid, but your partner and friend.

Forming families is serious business.

Be honest.

Remember and help America remember that the fellowship of human beings is more important than the fellowship of race and class and gender in a democratic society.

Sell the shadow for the substance.

Never give up.

Be confident that you can make a difference.

Don’t ever stop learning and improving your mind.

Don’t be afraid of hard work or of teaching your children to work.

“Slow down and live.”

Choose your friends carefully.

Be a can-do, will-try person.

Try to live in the present.

Use your political and economic power for the community and others less fortunate.

Listen for “the sound of the genuine” within yourself and others.

You are in charge of your own attitude.

Remember your roots, your history, and the forebears’ shoulders on which you stand. 

Be reliable.  Be faithful.  Finish what you start.

Always remember that you are never alone.

In November 1991, Jonah Martin Edelman would write:  My mother’s book is a written testament to her beliefs from which everyone, including myself, can benefit.    Many of her lessons for life strike a chord in me, but three in particular represent what I have come to see as the legacy of my ancestors:

  1. Don’t feel entitled to anything you don’t sweat and struggle for.
  1. Never give up.  You can make it no matter what comes.  Nothing worth having is ever achieved without a struggle.
  1. Always remember that you are never alone.  You are loved unconditionally.  There is nothing you can ever say or do that can take away my or God’s love.

When Marian Wright Edelman was a little girl growing up in segregated South Carolina, she used to switch “white” and “colored” signs above the drinking fountains.  I can’t imagine how liberating that must have been.  I smile at the thought.

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