Marian Wright Edelman speaks from her new book, "The Sea Is So Wide and My Boat Is So Small: Charting a Course for the Next Generation," which she wrote as a call to action for all Americans to address the urgent needs of our youth. January, 2009.
>> Dean Collins: Good afternoon everybody. We're going to go ahead and get started. I, I think that perhaps there's still people joining us but we do want to make sure that we have time for both the lecture, but also a very nice question and answer period. So I would like to welcome everybody. I am Susan Collins, the gentleman Sanford Wild, Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and I'm really delighted to see all of you here with us this afternoon. It's an honor and a personal pleasure for us to welcome Marian Wright Edelman to campus and to the Ford School, for our 2009 Citigroup Foundation Lecture Series. This lecture series was established several years by a gift in honor of President Gerald R. Ford, from the Citigroup Foundation. We're very grateful to the foundation for their generous gift, which is enabled us to bring distinguished policy leaders and thinkers to campus and we're particularly honored to have Marine White Edelman as part of that series here today. This event is co-sponsored by the National Poverty Center and by the Students of Color and Public Policy. And I want to thank both of those organizations, we're very thankful for their help and support. Today's lecture represents the Ford School's contribution to the University of Michigan's 2009 Symposium in honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As you know, or as you may know, the theme for the 2009 University Symposium is a dreamer but not the only one. This theme was selected to highlight the critical importance of acting for positive change, which King did and which so many of his follows have continued to do in the fight for civil rights and social justice. It's a particularly theme given the historic election of this nation's first African American President Barack Obama. And the unusual challenging times that we currently face. We are all called upon to act, roll up our sleeves and do what we can do create positive change for our community. And Mrs. Edelman's latest book, which we have distributed here this afternoon, she recounts advice that [inaudible] Gandhi remembers hearing from her grandfather. He told her that there were two kinds of people, those who do the work, and those who take the credit. But I must say that was one of my, one of many favorite passages I had when I had the pleasure of reading the book recently. He recommended that she try to be in the first group, because there was much less competition.
[ Laughter ]
>> Well Marian Wright Edelman's life has exemplified a willingness to do the work. The Children's Defense Fund, which she founded in 1973, sprang directly from the Civil Rights Movement, and represented her commitment to extending the principles of that movement to children's issues. Some of you might know that it was Marian Wright Edelman and her colleagues at the CDF who first popularized the phrase, or I should say the mission Leave No Child Behind. They've worked tirelessly for that cause through education, prenatal healthcare and nutrition, high quality affordable daycare, tax relief for working families with young children, adolescent pregnancy prevention, and much more. And all of these policy areas have been shaped and sharpened over the decades by the hard work of Mrs. Edelman and the Children's Defense Fund. Mrs. Edelman is a graduate of Spellman College and Yale Law School, and she began her career in the mid 1960's as the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar. She directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Office in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1968 she moved to Washington D.C. as counsel for the Poor People's Campaign that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began organizing before his death. She founded the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm that was the parent body of the Children's Defense Fund. She's received many honorary degrees and awards, including one from the University of Michigan's Law School. And in 2000 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writings, which include eight books. Like King, and Obama, Marian Wright Edelman is an inspiration who through decade, who for decades through her words and her actions, has articulated and fought as a champion for justice, and a committed activist for positive change. Her work continues to remind us that individuals matter and that we each have a role to play. And her work continues to remind us how important public policy is for setting the stage in which dreams can be realized. With this 2009 theme, A Dreamer But Not the Only One, I can think of no one more appropriate or inspiring to deliver the Ford School's Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Address this year. Please join me in welcoming Marian Wright Edelman.
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>> Marian Wright Edelman: Thank you. Thank you very much. I love being here at this transformative time in American history. I'm proud America as I've always said, more proud than I've ever been. And now I want us to be even prouder, as we together come together as citizens to build a movement to make our new great leader realize what we've got to do and which Dr. King hoped for. That is an effort to put the social and economic underpinnings beneath every human being in America and every child. So what a moment this is to be alive. I thank Dean Collins for that bit of introduction. I've worked for years with Sheldon Dansinger and really happy to reconnect with that center, and I've met some of your young people from your students of color and so I'm glad to see all of you here at this incredible time of challenge and hope. And I know Dr. King is smiling, I've been wearing my Harriet Tugman and [inaudible] truth medals with me, they've been having the best time since the Democratic Convention. And I often think, what would they be doing today. And I know that they would be speaking up to make sure that all the inequalities that have grown and grown would be closing, and that we'd be about the business of freeing all of our children from poor health and illiteracy and the prison pipeline, and that's what we must be doing. The day he died, Dr. King called his mother from Memphis to give her his next sermon's title for the next Sunday. And it was Why America May Go to Hell. And he said, America is going to hell if we don't use her vast resources to end poverty, and to make it possible for all of God's children to have the basic necessities of life. And I don't have any doubt that if Dr. King were present today that he would be calling for poor people's campaign, for poor children's campaign. When he died there were 11 million poor children and today there are 13.3 million poor children. Our GDP is three times bigger than it was when he died. The gap between rich and poor is higher than it's ever been in our recorded history and I know what he would be doing and that's what I think we should be doing, because so many of us love to celebrate Dr. King, but it is really now time to follow him, and to hear him, and that is the chore for the next eight to ten years and with this wonderful new moment in American history, with this wonderful new leader this is our opportunity. And Dr. King from the beginning realized that movements make leaders, citizens make great leaders, not leaders the other way around. And so we have got to make sure that we start that hard work of movement building and carry over the enthusiasm and the organizing efforts and the, the call and respond to the call, community and unity that will enable our president to be the great president he wants to be. But, but we must help him. I tell the story a lot. There are no friends in politics and I tell the story about A. Philip Randolph going to the White House to visit President Franklin Roosevelt, and he was telling him about racial discrimination and the need to have federal action against that. And early on before the '63 march on Washington, he was talking about a march on Washington to deal with the education inequities and to deal with job discrimination and job needs of the black community. And President Roosevelt was alleged to have said, and listened very sympathetically and then to have said at the end of the conversation that, Phil I agree with absolutely everything that you just told me, now you go out and make me do it. So our job over the next four to eight years is to make our political leaders do what they need to do for the least amount of [inaudible] and to invest in our human capital which is going to be the key to America's global competitiveness, because there's so many things on the table. There's two wars to solve with an economic debacle that we're trying to solve, with global warming, with pollution and all the big things, we've got to make sure the children and the poor stay at the table. And that we build a mighty noise to make sure that we create a level playing field. That's what Dr. King would be doing today and that's what I'm going to be doing forever. The day after Dr. King died there was rioting and looting all across the nation, and I went out into the District of Columbia of public schools to tell young people not to riot and not to loot because I didn't want them to ruin their futures. And a little boy, about 12, looked me straight in the eye and said, Lady what future? I ain't got no future. I ain't got nothing to lose. And I have spent the last 40 years trying to prove that boy's truth wrong. I never realized how hard it would be. And the richest nation on the earth professes to have a creative equality for everybody and a democracy, but we've got to answer that boy's truth, and that's what I want to talk about today. Imagine God visiting our very wealthy family blessed with six children, five of them have enough to eat and comfortable warm rooms in which to sleep. One doesn't. She's often hungry and cold and on some nights she has to sleep on the streets or in a shelter and may even be taken away from her neglectful family and placed in a foster care or a group home with strangers. Imagine this rich family giving five of their children nourishing meals three times a day and snacks to fuel boundless energy. But sending the sixth child from the table and school hungry with only one or two meals and never the dessert the other children enjoy. Imagine this very wealthy family making sure five of its children get all of their shots, regular health checkups before they get sick and immediate access to healthcare when illness strikes but ignoring the sixth child who is plagued by chronic respiratory infections and painful toothaches which sometimes abscess and kill for lack of a doctor or a dentist. Imagine this family sending five of their children to good stimulating preschools and making sure they have music and swimming lessons after school, sending the sixth child to unsafe daycare with untrained caregivers responsible for too many children, or leaving her occasionally with an accommodating relative or a neighbor or even all alone. Imagine five the children living at home with books and families able to read most of their children every night. But the other child is left unread to, untalked and unsung to, unhugged or propped before a television screen or video game that feeds him violence and sex and racial and gender charged messages, intellectual [inaudible] interrupted only by ceaseless ads for material things that are beyond the child's grasp. Imagine this family sending some of their children to high quality schools in safe neighborhoods. With enough books and computers and laboratories and science equipment and well prepared teachers, and sending the sixth child to a crumbling school building with peeling ceilings and leaks and lead in the paint, and asbestos. No known books or not enough of them, and teachers untrained in the subjects they teach, and with low expectations that all children can learn, especially the sixth child. Imagine most of the family's children being excited about learning and looking forward to finishing high school, going to the University of Michigan and getting a job. And the sixth child pulling further and further behind grade level, not being able to read, wanting to drop out of school and being suspended and expelled at younger and younger ages. Because no one has taught him to read and compute or diagnose his attention deficit disorder or treated his health and mental health problems, and helped him keep up with his peers. Imagine five of the children engaged in sports, in music and arts and after school and summer camps, and in enrichment programs. And the sixth child hanging out with peers, or going home alone because mom and dad are working, or are in prison or have run away from their parenting responsibilities and escaped in drugs and alcohol, leaving him alone or on the streets during the non-school hours and weeks long non-school hours and weeks and months. At risk of being sucked into illegal activities and the prison pipeline or killed in our gun saturated nation. Well this is our American family today where one in six of our children lives in poverty in the richest nation on earth. More than 40% live in extreme poverty and the numbers of 13.3 and 5.6 in extreme poverty they're going to get worse in this period of down turn. Our data is old. And it is not a stable or healthy or economically sensible or just family. Our failure to invest in all of our children before they get sick or drop out of school, get pregnant or get into trouble, is morally defensible and extremely costly. Every year we let 13 million children live in poverty caused by a half trillion dollars in lost productivity and the cost of crime and health and other dependency. And I've heard others, especially children without consequences. And contrary to popular stereotypes, America's sixth child is more than twice as likely to live in a working family that to be on welfare is more likely to be white than black or Latino. And is more likely to live in a rural or suburban area than in an inner city. However, black and Hispanic children are at far greater risk of being poor and of entering the cradle to [inaudible] pipeline. The most dangerous place for a child to grow up in America today is at the intersection of poverty and race. Racial disparity still permeate all the major America institutions that shape the life chances of millions of children. On the [inaudible] by poverty, these disparities are putting countless children at risk of incarceration and funneling hundreds of thousands of them every year into a pipeline to prison, derailing their chances for reaching successful adulthood. Incarceration has been coming the new American partied. And poor children of color are the product. All of us must see and understand and sound the alarm about this threat to American unity and community, act to stop the growing criminalization of children at younger and younger ages and tackle the unjust treatment of minority youths and adults in the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems with urgency and persistence. The failure to act now will reverse the hard earned racial and social progress Dr. King and so many others have died and sacrificed for. And weaken our future capacity to lead. All leaders in all sectors must call for investment in all children from birth through their successful transition to adulthood. Remembering Frederick Douglas' direct observation that it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. So many poor babies in rich America in a world with multiple strikes against them, born without prenatal care at low birth rate and to a team poor and poorly educated single mother, and absent father, though I do hope that the, the signal of our new president says you can make it even if your daddy did leave home when you were two and even if your mother was on food stamps and even if you did have an unstable mobile childhood. But we can't just say, children you go do it, you've got to put into place the building blocks so that they can actually succeed. And I love, I told the story earlier this morning being in a juvenile detention center a few weeks ago, and I asked a young man what this election meant. And one young man, about 15, who had, was in there for very serious things said, you know a week ago I couldn't even imagine getting my GED, and now I'm going to hang in there and get my PhD. So hope has been around, and we've got to make sure he has the tools and the means to get that G, PhD. And so let's put the building blocks and meet on the hope that will allow our children to succeed now that their expectations and sense of themselves has been lifted. At crucial points in their development after birth until adulthood, more risks pile on, making a successful transition to productive adulthood significantly less likely and involvement in the criminal justice system significantly more likely. Since children of color are always and have been always disproportionately poor, their odds of incarceration as adults greatly exceed that of white children. Black children are three times as likely as white children to be poor and almost six times as likely as white children to be incarcerated. A poor black boy born in 2001 has a one in three chance in going to prison in his lifetime. A Latino boy a one in six chance. A black girl and a white boy a one in 17 chance. A Latino girl one in 45 chance. A white girl a one in 111 chance. The past continues to strangle the present and the future. Children with incarcerated parent are more likely to become incarcerated. Black children are nearly nine times and Latino children three times as likely as white children to have an incarcerated parent. Black that comes to one third, Latinos one-fifth of our imprisoned population. One in three black men, 20 to 29 years old, father s of children that need them at home and are able to provide the nurturing care is under correctional supervision or control. Of the 2.3 million people in jail or prison, 64% are minority and the 4.2 million people on probation, 45% are minority. And of the 800,000 people on parole, 59 percent. We're not in a post-racial society yet, but we're about to get there. And for any of us who thought the change of the top is so crucial is going to solve all the problems for those at the bottom, and which have been deepening and downward mobility has been increasing over the last decades, need to address this. And this is the time to take this new era and this new leadership to really make sure that we lift the bottom and create a level playing field for all of our children. Unjust drug sentencing policies have greatly escalated, incarceration of minority adults and youths. Now these numbers that I just shared are black and Latino community tragedy. But they are an unfolding national catastrophe that we've got to address. They are ripping apart billions of families, stripping away the right to vote for many, and blocking the chance to get a job to support a family. They decrease public security as more and more prisoners reenter society without the means to legally support themselves, and they drain taxpayer dollars as increasing billions are spent on massive incarceration and beyond and old. We need to change course. Our states are spending on average three times more per prisoner than for public school pupil. I can't think of a dumber investment policy. And I am delighted that your new government is trying to begin your governor. She's not new anymore, but is trying to begin to change and reorder these priorities. Please support her. And speak up against the growing power of the prison unions and of the prison industrial complex. Prisons are big business. We're spending $200 billion a year we have more people. They're, they employ more people than our three largest employers, Wal-Mart, GM, recently GM, and Ford. This is big, big business. And I tell you as I get older, I want to make sure that they are we are producing enough productive workers to support us and our older ages, and, and infrastructure we need to be strong in the infrastructure we need to be strong and the new centers and us supporting them. And prison and, and at greatly increased cost. We can redevelop. We have a paradigm change, and we all need to sort of call more, and we need to stop incarcerations as a first resort and really begin to invest preventably and, and, and early, and trying to divert our children into a pipeline for successful adulthood through college and through productive work. I think that is the gender for us, Children's Defense Fund for the next decade for all of us. We need to create that level playing field. Now child poverty and neglect and the cradle to prison pipeline and the racial disparities and the systems that serve our children are not acts of God. They are America's immoral, political and economic choices that can and must be changed with strong political, corporate, community leadership. No single sector or group can solve these child and nation threatening crises alone, but all of us can together. As leaders we must all begin to come to the table and use our pulpits and our skills to replace our current paradigm with again a paradigm of prevention and investment in children before they get sick and drop out of school and get into trouble. It'll save lives, it'll save families, it'll save taxpayer money, it'll save our nation's aspirations to be in a fair society and it'll allow us to compete in the global arena where our children are going to have to have the skills and the means to maintain our economic [inaudible] with competition from China and India and Europe and everywhere. We can no longer afford to waste our children. And it is time for us to live up to our creed and that is in the goal of this time. Ending child poverty is not only an urgent moral necessity, it's economically beneficial, as Dr. Solo and my team [inaudible] and economics wrote in Wasting America's Future. I think Sheldon [inaudible] was a member of that epic. And he said ending child poverty is at the very least highly affordable. More likely it is a gain to the economy and to the business as taxpayers and citizens within. A healthy social security and that ends Dr. Solo's quote. For I say a health social security and Medicare system for our increasing elderly population needs as many productive workers as possible. And we can ill afford to let millions of our people and children grow up poor in poor health uneducated, under educated and dependent rather than productive citizens. So what can we all do today as community and other leaders to build our spiritual and political will to help our nation pass, pass the test of the God of history and better prepare for America's futures. What steps can we take together to heed Dr. King's warning, not to let our wealth become our destruction, but our salvation. By helping the poor Nazareth says languishing at our gates. How can we cease the enormous opportunity today. To use our great blessings to bless all the children entrusted to our care and rekindle America's dimming dream. Other first is for all of us. To be leaders in our community and in our networks and in our disciplines that call all of us to our [inaudible] and to heed president's who call all of us, to create new epic of caring and sacrifice and service. And we must begin at every level to try to overcome the deep divides between rich and poor and white and non-white and men and women and imprisoned and free. And but despite the huge strides over the past decades we really are seeing our social economic process stalling again the top has been wonderful. And threatening to reverse. And we've got to get ourselves on the right track again. We've got to move forward and not backwards. We've got to reset our nation's priority but have created that greatest gap between rich and poor in our history. And between our rich and poor in the globe. Because we really are one big human house. And everything is interconnected as Dr. King told us over and over again. And we've got to step up, go away from the false either ors and the present mission, there's a number of them, but I say the false either ors between personal, family, community and societal responsibility for children. And for simplistic solutions that don't address these complex but solvable problems. Since all of us are responsible for ensuring our nation's future, all of us need to come together to work together across discipline, across race, across [inaudible] and to put our children's healthy development at the center of our decision making. Because if the child is safe, everybody is safe. And the child doesn't come in pieces, the child comes in families, families are affected by communities, communities are affected by the policies and investment priorities of their state and local and national governments, and all of us are affected by the culture, that seems to glorify violence and excessive materialism and militarism, that Dr. King warned us about and these have to be seen in context because they are all affecting our children's healthy development. The second is that I just hope we will all come together and really envision that we can eliminate poverty and eliminate child poverty in this country, starting with extreme child poverty. And wouldn't it be nice if we set a goal for 2015, which is the day that the United Nations millennial goals for lifting many, many millions out of poverty, and in developing nations around the world and what an example we might show. I remember how heartbroken I was at a UNICEF meeting some years ago when I was sharing with them the, the facts of child poverty and mortality and were [inaudible] in our country and the developing nations were absolutely crushed because they thought my goodness in we could just become like the United States. If we could just become a developed nation these problems would disappear. I really want us to be a good role model, I mean it's just, we need to show that democratic capitalism is not an oxymoron. And so it would be so wonderful if while we're losing ground with these [inaudible] developing countries, if we could set a goal that says we're going to eliminate child poverty and I, I'm always in a hurry because children are growing up, they have only one childhood. I think we've lost two generations of many of our poor and minority children. By 2015 and we all made a commitment, got our leaders to make a commitment to doing what we have to do to end the racial disparity suffered by millions of black, Latino, Native American children, who are disproportionately poor in the richest nation on earth. No other rich industrialized western nation permits the high rates of child poverty than we do. No other nation let's children be the poorest group among its citizens. We can do better. Benjamin Franklin said a long time, the best family policy is a good job. Every American family should have an adequate income based primarily on work and a decent safety net for anyone unable to work and everyone must be able to live a healthy safe job rich communities with affordable housing. And I don't want to hear anybody tell us we don't have the money to do it even in this period of economic downturn. Every child could be lifted out of poverty for less than nine months of the tax cuts of the top one percent, in four months of Iraq war. I was trying to convince the Congress that we really could afford $700 billion last year to cover all of our children rather than four of the nine million uninsured children, and to provide that national safety net, and they said we couldn't find the money we were too poor and look how quickly they found that $700 billion, and what are we talking about now? We don't have a money problem, we have a [inaudible] and a priorities problem and again the job is citizens. Is to make a mighty noise for a change in our investment priorities and I hope that you will join me in that. We can begin to stop the irresponsible giveaways to our richest 300,000 Americans and reinvest that in saving the futures of 13 million poor children. And I hope we will do that and fight hard for the tax relief, below and moderate income families including a fully refundable child tax credit which in the House stimulus bill and I hope you will pay attention to what's in that bill, because the first thing we can do is to make sure that the investments in low income people at this time and middle income people at this time really get put into that stimulus package which gives us something to build on when the temporary period [inaudible] But making the tax, child tax credit fully refundable will benefit millions of children and lift hundreds of thousands of them out of poverty now. Getting earned income tax credit expanded for larger families, with three or more children would begin to have an enormous anti-poverty impact. Investing in childcare and food stamps and for all of our folk, they're going to spend that money quickly, they've got to stimulate the economy and they are going to hopefully keep themselves together. But there are a lot of strong safety net programs spent on Medicaid assistance, but pay attention to it. The House package I think on the whole is very good, now keeping it in the Senate is going to be a challenge, but let's work on that because this is the time when we have a chance to move forward. If we lifted, if we expand the federal childcare support to families earning 200% or below the federal level we could lift over two million children out of poverty. To raise food stamp participation, increase the benefits 85 percent, we could again have an impact on millions. So here is a moment that we must cease and I do hope that you will call up your senators now and call up your congressmen now and really support the provisions that are in the house package. I hope we'll all take responsibility to educate ourselves and to educate others about who the poor are. And maybe in this period of economic downturn the many people never thought they'd be in a food stamp line, never thought they'd lose their home, never thought they'd be wondering where they're going to be able to pay their utilities bill. But this is a moment when we might be open and that the poor may well be us. We must help our nation remove their, our psychological cataracts and dispel many of the myths that we saw up in here and about the causes and consequences of child poverty, one of which I've already talked about. It cost too much to eliminate poverty. I think we need to change the trims of the debate because it costs too much to maintain child poverty. We need to produce productive citizens, not dependent ones. We hear a lot about it's not the right time, it's always the right time to be just and to be fair and to make sure that children are able to get the very basic things they need to grow up and to learn and to be healthy. We hear still that nothing works. Well we know a lot about work. Things that do work. We know how to immunize children, we should not have so many children that are immunized today. We know how to provide good health services for children and there should not be nine million children unable to find a dentist or a doctor. We know a lot about what works and we need to move them to scale and to maintain their quality. We know that we could overcome some of the myths like, you know, we fought a war on poverty and poverty won. Well we didn't fight a war on poverty, we fought a scrimmage on poverty and the war in Vietnam and the military budget won. Dr. King was calling for a poor people's campaign at the times when we were investing 40 times less, in the office of economic opportunity to fight the war on poverty than the war in Vietnam and other military spending. He knew this was an unequal contest. And we need to go back again. And he would not be pleased today to see that we're in two wars, and that trillions have gone into wars rather than to investing in our people. These are about making hard choices, and we need to answer them back. We often here that it is parents' responsibility to take care of their own children. They're not my children, they're other people's children. Well of course it's the parents responsibility, but what are parents to do if, if their jobs are down, are eliminated or are sent abroad. Our wages are there, they're working as hard as they can but they cannot lift themselves out of poverty or if they're not able to get healthcare. The majority, 90% of, of the children are without health insurance living in families, playing by the rules, but again can't get healthcare. And so while parents certainly should be the first line of responsibility, no child should be punished for parents they did not choose. And if you look at the book that you've been handed, you will find I'm pretty tough on parents, but we need to also support parents and being good parents. And nobody raises a child alone. They said a portion should not have babies, they cannot support. Nobody should have babies they can't support either financially or emotionally, but again you don't punish children for the problems of the parents that they did not choose. And we need to help rather than judge or blame or punish the poor or non-poor who neglect their children. And I hear a lot about class warfare even from dear friends who are concerned about children but don't really want to talk about changing our tax policies. And I don't hear anybody talk about the class warfare. I think we have seen how we've had this massive redistribution of income from the poor to the rich over the last decades, and, and corporate welfare has been extraordinary, something is wrong. And unfair when 46 companies in a recent year paid no federal income taxes, while reporting combined profits of $40, almost $43 billion and collectively receiving tax rebates total $5.4 billion. We need to have a little tax fairness here. And we've always tended to have socialism for the rich as we're seeing now in the bailout, and capitalism for the poor. We need to have better balance as we move forward. So that three in terms of public policy opportunities this year which require voice. And we do know what to do is that I hope we can all come together and see health insurance coverage for every American. But we if we can't get it for every American, and I hope we will and we work hard, I hope we can get it for every child and every pregnant mother. The Senate today is considering shift, I haven't been informed about whether in fact they ended up passing it. The House had passed the state children's health insurance bill that was Mr. Bush had vetoed several times last year. But that is not child health reform. It's a step forward. That's last year's unfinished business. It covers only four if the Senate does end up including as the House did not, legal immigrant children. But it's about four million children. But we are nine million uninsured children and we want them all having a health safety net. I said to them until I'm blue in the face, I have three sons, and I wouldn't dream of giving them one of them health coverage and two of them no health coverage. We can do better. And there God did not make two classes of children and this country can afford to cover all children. We can afford to give them all the same guaranteed package of comprehensive coverage which include mental and dental. We have children dying of tooth abscesses in this country. We shouldn't have that happen. I don't want to hear those Katrina children's problems over the next years that we've left them out there three years after this great trauma without the mental healthcare needs. I don't want to see children sitting out by the thousands in our juvenile detention facilities so many because they couldn't get mental health coverage in their community and parents having to judge themselves neglectful and abusive parents in order to get mental health coverage. We need to put in place a comprehensive benefits and we cannot have a two tier system of children who are eligible for Medicaid guaranteed comprehensive benefits. In fact we can, and children for Chip who don't have guaranteed benefits which is what we are trying to do is to make sure that we upgrade all children with the same set of benefits. You can have two children in the same family, different ages, depending on how the states structure this child health delivery systems, one is eligible for comprehensive benefit and guaranteed it throughout this economic downturn, the other child may be eligible for Chip. And not guaranteed anything and not have mental or dental. And as children are being cut back now in this economic down turn in the states, this two tier system must be corrected. Every child should have what they need to grow up healthy and to have the full range of comprehensive benefits. The third thing that we're trying to do and we've drafted a bill that was in last year and which will be reintroduced for them this month it's called the all healthy children's act is that we would make sure that we simplify the child health bureaucracies. I don't want to see national health insurance with seniors having Medicare and the, I don't know what we'll end up with for all the rest of us, but the children cannot be left out there in two programs in 50 states. The lottery of geography of the [inaudible] Mississippi's child's life is no less valuable than a Massachusetts's child's life, or even a child's chance to live and thrive, cannot depend on the goodness of their government or the politics or wealth of their state. So we want a national safety net that says every child within a family with 300% poverty income or less would be given a guaranteed these services, and anybody with income above that can be able to buy in at affordable cost. And should make it simple. There should be one system. So we don't have the current problems with six million children of the nine million who are uninsured are eligible for either Chip or Medicaid. But they fall through the bureaucratic cracks and we need to make enrollment automatic at birth of any child that is in a mean [inaudible] program they are automatically enrolled. They are starting school but we should make sure we're getting them. We don't need to do all this outreach we just need to get them in the system. And the [inaudible] here is to serve children well. To tear down all these bureaucratic barriers that the states have put up to serve as few children as they can rather than serve as many children. So one of the things I do hope you will do is to have a robust engagement and this new debate is going on in national health insurance for everybody. But please pay particular attention to the children's health piece and to the pregnant women's piece. We want to cover every pregnant woman. It is disgraceful that our low birth rate rates are those of an underdeveloped nation that our infant mortality rates are those of undeveloped nation. And we know how to move this well. But we are going to need your help and your voice. And so the [inaudible] the finance committee they're going to have jurisdiction over much of what we need to do, whether it's poverty, a stimulus package or whether children's health coverage. But I do hope you will pay attention. I hope you will check into our website and look at the [inaudible] health insurance debates provisions and see how you can support it and encourage other people to support it. We must cover our children. We must close off that first big entry point in the prison pipeline by making sure that those children who are born with three or four strikes against them and low birth weight, didn't identify that they had a substance or alcohol abusing mother, a mother at risk, let's get them on there with a fair chance to run. And then let's put in place the second building block and that's a strong early childhood foundation. We know about early brain development and the first three years of life, yet early head start serves only 3% of the eligibles. And this stimulus package there is 2.1 billion increase in head start and I hope a lot of that will go into early head start. We know how to give good parent support programs and child/parent interaction is so important, but you can't teach what you don't know. And so this is another set of programs and policies that we need to move to scale. Parents need support. They're eager to be and hungry to do a better job, but they need help and we need to spend the chances for our children to have very strong early childhood experiences. We need to have a universal high quality early childhood system with head start and child care and preschool, and we need to sort of break down the silos between the child care people and the preschool people and the head start people and the after school people and see if we can't develop a high quality early childhood system that's got a help children get ready for school and be ready to get and learn in school. But also be safe at school. Children spend only 17% of their time in school. We need to get these congregations and you will see a very strong set of letters in the book you got. Please look at it, debate it and then go and confront your religious leaders and yourselves, our neighbors, for how we can begin to reweave the fact of this community. And open up our congregations to provide safe havens to the streets for our children. The gangs and the drug dealers are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And the television sets are always on. How do we begin to compete with them and to provide positive role models and, and programming for our children? So having a high quality early childhood and family support system. Very, very important and there will be legislation that will be introduced to try to do this. I think we need to ensure child and economic family security and I hope again you will plug in and look and I am sure that your, your leaders here in this school will have a lot to say as we move forward. I hope we can dramatically decrease the number of children coming into the child welfare system and again I keep going back to poverty. A poor child is 22 times more likely to be neglected and abused than a non-poor child and we've got to deal with the core causes and not just with the symptoms and you know we've got 345,000 [inaudible] abortion. I have been saying to all and I come from a family of Baptist preachers, if just ten% or 13% of them decided they were going to find one or two adoptive parents we could clean out the child welfare system. Or if we provided adequate support systems for families and kin, we could keep a lot of children out of the child welfare system. Because we know once children go into foster care they're going to be at risk of dropping out of school at much higher rates than children who have not been in the foster care system. They're much more at risk of, of going into juvenile detention. So we've got, again, to close all of that feeder system but it's going to take family and community and neighbors and, and good public policies. And again an attack on poverty. And I hope that we can begin to deal with our overburdened and underfinanced child welfare system which is a major feeder system into the cradle to prison pipeline. And I want to give a great shout out to granny parents. I've really been radicalized by becoming a grandma, and I am not going to leave this messy world to our grandchildren, and I think that when I look at the struggles of grandparents and they're about four/five million children living in grandparent headed households, and I try to put myself in their place, and I've got every support I need. My husband and I can manage and we have our grandchildren for one whole weekend and we are so worn out when they leave. I just cannot imagine what it's like for these 70, 75 and 80 year old grandparents trying to deal with children from and the loss of their own children which are many things. And many of them have special needs. Don't have the transportation, don't have the support, don't have the education, don't have the safer communities. I don't know how they manage. And we've been making some progress. There's new legislation to try to begin to bolster grandparents. But again, they need community supports. They need better public houses. They need to try to keep family together for children as much as we can, as we can. We need to figure out how to educate our children. I mean I can't figure out how in this wealthy nation that has managed to send spaceships to Mars and men and men and women to the moon, and cracked the genetic code and mind trillions of dollars and I, from a tiny microchip. We can't figure out how to teach our children to read by fourth grade, or even eighth grade, or 12th grade. The majority of all of our children of all races and income groups are not reading at grade level and fourth and eighth grade or 12th grade, if they are able, haven't been dropped out by then. And among our minority young people, 80%, over 80% of our young people are not computing at grade level in fourth or eighth or 12th grade if they haven't dropped out. Over 90% are not doing their math at grade level. What is a child to do in this globalized and postindustrial economy, information based economy if they can't read or write? They're headed off to prison. They're headed off to death. There's no place for them in this American place which is why we've got to make our public schools function, have high expectations for every child. Hold ourselves accountable for ensuring equal education and opportunity to tackle the growing re-segregation in our schools and the, the gaps between the quality we're able to give our children rich, and between, and I bring children in flat, but we've got to begin to deal with these basic problems of inequity. Have high expectations for all children. I've been so proud that I kept all three of my sons out of law school, and while I think that we, and I try to say that teaching and education is the civil rights issue of the, of this, of this era. And I applaud those young people who are going into Teach America. I'm so glad that two of my children are invested in education. But we've got to begin to get a hold of these children. We've got to begin to re-conceptualize our schools to have high expectations, to have high teaching equality, to reward teachers and then to hold teachers and principals accountable. And I tell everybody to go into teaching, but don't go into teaching if you don't see it as a mission, if you don't love and respect all children because you can have the fanciest classrooms, and you can have the best laboratories, but children know you don't love them and expect them to learn, please get out and do something else. But I think that the community needs an, we need to have community accountability. We need, when we see, as we are seeing the cradle of the prison pipeline, the transference of zero tolerance drug policies into zero tolerance discipline policies in our schools. And we see five and six and seven year old children being expelled for behaviors that used to be handled in the school principal's office or in the community. And when we see school systems bringing police in to school premises to arrest six and seven, eight year old children, handcuffing them at the ankles and at, I think we adults have lost our minds. And I just was listening the ACLU in New York recently about school security problems in that city. And the school security force in New York City constitutes the sixth largest police system in our country. I taught Boston public school. We have got to stop. We've got to look back and say what is the purpose of schools? And if we're engaging children and if we're giving them the supports they need. And if we are collaborating with parents, real parent collaboration, and are trying to make sure that we're building those bridges between early childhood and public schools and after schools and there's some school systems that are getting it right and there are a lot of wonderful innovation schools, a lot of places, there are not a lot of wonderful school systems that are lifting whole sets of children. But we know, we can look at Raleigh, we can look at Long Beach, and there are other places, but we've got to get it right. We've got to figure out in this wealthy great democracy how to teach all of our children to read and how to have high expectations, but that's going to come from citizens demand and we must begin to do it. We've got to reform the juvenile justice system and I just invite you to go and sit with juvenile judges for a day in court and see the breakdown of the systems and what the children who are coming in there. And then to go sit in adult criminal court and see the results of our failures to invest and to reweave the fabric of family and community. And lastly, the least popular political issue I could mention is gun violence, violence. And all of these are related, inner related. I mean we lose a child to gun violence every three hours. Eight a day. We made progress when we began to do our annual child and gun violence reports, we're losing 15 a day. But and we were going down steadily. We now have an uptick in, in gun violence. Went back up about 3,000, 3006. Since Dr. King died we lost 104,000 children to gunfire and three times as many have been injured by gun violence. We have the equivalent to Virginia Tech's massacre every four days in this quiet chronic problem of gun violence. And Dr. King and Robert Kennedy warned us about gun violence and we haven't listened. And so many thousands of our children are living in war zones, living traumatized every day. The stories are just horrendous. And I don't know what it's going to take to get us to stand up and say we're going to stop the killing of children in our country. And to stop the violence against children in our homes as well as in our streets and neighborhoods. It's very hard to focus in class if you're walking through streets and dodging bullets and, and, and are constantly afraid as so many of children are living in constant fear. And if you go into your juvenile dentition facilities you'll find that most of your young people are obsessed with not whether they're going to die but when they're going to die. And they feel hopeless. Children should not be growing up assuming they're not going to reach adulthood. We can do better. And these challenges are challenges we must make and we must somehow raise a stronger counter voice to the NRA and say we're going to stop with the killing of children, but all of these are interrelated. And how we respect and try to create for every child a reasonable and just chance to succeed in our rich democratic nation. I know we can do it. We have seen extraordinary revelation, revolutions over our lifetime. I've always felt very blessed as I say in almost every speech, to have been born who I was, what I was, at the convergence of great events and great leaders. I mean to have the role models of not just the Dr. King's and I loved Dr. King who never always knew, seldom always, seldom always, good gracious Mary, who seldom knew what the whole staircase was going to look like. And the first speech I heard him make at Spellman College in my senior year was how we should all take the first step even if you couldn't see the whole stairway and leave the rest to God. And I was always impressed by him because of his doubts, and because of his ability to fight and move on despite his fears. He taught me that courage was not not being afraid, it was going ahead and trying to find the means to act even when you were afraid. And that first speech I remember he talked about importance of continuing to move forward despite the political weather, importance of having thermostat leaders rather than thermometer leaders who stuck their hands up in the air when we needed thermostat leaders who could change the climate. And the need to speak right. If you couldn't fly you should all, you should drive. If you couldn't drive you should run. If you couldn't run you should walk. If you couldn't walk you should crawl. But you should keep moving. And there's been a lot of people who kept moving over the last 40 years. It's been a very tough wilderness period. And we're coming out now and I do hope that we're going to now stand up and build that transforming movement that Dr. King lived and died for. Let me end with a, a poem by Ann Weaves, called The Green Less Child, because a lot of our problem in America is the distinction we make between our own people, our own children and other people's children. I think all children are sacred. I think all children are children of God and that our civil creed as well as our creed from all great faiths say that the priorities should go to the most vulnerable, to the orphans, to the widow. And I hope that this is a time we might be visited. But I was very moved by Ann Weaves' poem about the green less child. She said, I watched her go and celebrated into the second grade, a green less child. Gray among the orange and yellow, attached too much to corners and to other people's sunshine. She colors the rainbow brown and leaves balloons unopened in their packages. Oh who will touch this green less child? Who will plant halleluiah's in her heart and send her dancing into all the colors of God? Or will she be left like an unwrapped package on the kitchen table? Too dull for anyone to take the trouble. Does God think that we are her keeper? Well I think so. And I think at this moment that we all have an enormous opportunity to turn this green less child into a green child, full of life, by putting into place the kind of community and family supports that every child needs. The role modeling and the mentoring that every child needs, and putting into place the kind of public policies and new investment policies and new sense of community and unity that makes this child feel welcome at the table of plenty in our rich land. Thank you so.
[ Clapping ]
>> Dean Collins: Thank you so much for that inspiring call to action on behalf of our children.
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Thank you.
>> Dean Collins: Marian Wright Edelman has agreed to take some questions. We have maybe 25 minutes. What I will ask is if people could come to the microphones, there's one here and there's one there. We have a large audience, which is wonderful, but it means that I will ask people to introduce themselves very briefly and to try to, to be brief with their question as well. So I will come back at 5:30 p.m. to shift to a reception. But if people would approach the microphones, thank you.
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Yes.
>> Audrey: Good after, can you hear me?
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Yes I can.
>> Audrey: Okay. Good afternoon and welcome to the University of Michigan.
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Thank you.
>> Audrey: My name is Audrey, I'm a two time grad of U of M. I looked through your book, and one of the things that impressed me was the mandate that you mention for teachers, you know, to treat each child with a sense of equity, regardless of their background. I would like to hear your thoughts on an individual that I've come to admire in this community. Her name is Ruth Swiffer [assumed spelling] She is a woman who, she's of Jewish background and she adopted children who were of a different race. And I personally feel that one of the most concrete ways that we can have an impact on poverty is to do hands on activities or hands on intervention to bring people who are different than we are into our personal lives, and to begin to understand what their barriers are. And to be a support to them to get through those barriers. So I'd like to hear your, your thoughts on, on what is required or what is the value of those of us who want to help in this area of reaching out and, and bringing in folks who are different than we are, in a very personal way into our lives.
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Oh I, I encourage it. I mean I think that we've, we are one nation. I think that's the, the poll and the appeal now. We are all equal under our Constitution, at least in theory, even though those of us who are women and those of us who are three fifths of everybody else. But look at the progress we've made over the last 100 years. We are living in a world, and in a nation, that is already becoming more and more like California, and in a world that is two thirds non-white and two thirds poor. And one of the great important things about this election is that we are joining the world in a very real way. I had wondered so much about how whether in 100 years we could restore our sense of respect in the world. But somehow I think that this man who seems to represent the DNA of every piece of the globe, everybody's able to see something of themselves in him, both, if you're biracial child or if you're, you're, it's, it's, it's a wonderful thing to see it all come together. And there was a big dispute for many years about whether there should be white families adopting black children. And I said well, you know, the good loving family and that really cares and respects children is better than any old institution you can find. They need caring adults, they need to be culturally sensitive, but I think we need to clean out our foster care system. We can't find enough adoptive families, you know, we need to do something, we need to get these children out and we need not just to be adopting children from around the world. So I, we're trying to find all the kinds of ways in which we can begin to get to know each other and work together. 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning as you know is still the most segregated hour in America, but we've got to find ways of building relationships in the faith community, and we need to have freedom schools, which is a model that CDF is pushing. We have a 150 of them, and black churches, and all around the country. But you know many of them have no money in rural areas. And they can begin to pair up with white churches, and all of us need to figure out how we can pool our resources and find ways of supporting each other to reach the children most in need. Just trying to see how you can begin to get churches of all colors, or synagogues or sort of take responsibility of the churches and children within five block radius. And wouldn't it be nice if they just knew the children around them, and begin to figure out how they could begin to open up their doors and provide services of all these opportunities to be a personal witness, and I hope you will look at some of the messages to families and neighbors, neighbors, and to congregations and to all of us. But while we're making this personal witness we also have to make a civic commitment and we have to be aware of the need of good, just policies and charity is not a substitute for justice. And personal caring is crucially important and is stuff that we should all do because we care and we serve and we're part of a common community and we should also be part of a movement that's going to change the investment origins of the nation. So it's a both and again, but I don't know the person you have mentioned, but I applaud what she's doing. Hi. Thank you. I can't see very well, the light. Yes. Okay. Thank you.
>> Sally Radford: Hello, Ms. Edelman. My name is Sally Radford and we met this summer during the Joshua Generation Conference in Tennessee.
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Good.
>> Sally Radford: I was a representative of Foster Club. And I guess I think it's fitting to know that since we're on a college campus I wanted to know if you could talk about what the, what the children of this fund does across the country to engage young people on college campuses?
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Well I think that the most important thing all of us can do is to mentor and prepare a critical mass of the next generation to engage in, in on-going advocacy and to sustain this movement. And the Children's Defense Fund invests an enormous portion of its resources in training young people. We are trying to create not just opportunities to have them meet but we are trying to also create structures for advocacy and service. They need to have a way of moving up the ladder of leadership and having on-going ways of staying involved. And so we bought, we bought Alex Haley's farm about 15 years ago. Most of us, most people think of CDF as a national policy group in Washington, and we do do that, but it's about a third of what we do, two-thirds of us is out in the states and local counties, and try and engage in community building. And we've been trying to create new models based some on the '60s, but preparing in the context of the 21st Century movement that we need to build. And so one example is that we created, we took the Mississippi Freedom Schools of '64, put a real curriculum under it, and have created 150 freedom schools which we now want to move to scale where we teach young children how, five to 15 year olds, but with color student teacher mentors, and a third of them in churches, a third of them in schools, and a third of them are in the mix of community institutions and some partners with higher education, Davison College has one, the University of Maryland. At any rate, but then we try to make sure that the young people, five to 16, become engaged in service. We talk, the theme of freedom schools is, I can make a difference in myself, in my community, in my family, in my nation and my world. And they have wonderful books that are designed to empower them. They look and study what children did to create, help the role that they played in overcoming legal apartide [phonetic] in this country in the Civil Rights Movement. They learn about little [inaudible] Bridges. They learn about the little Rock Nine. They learn about the children in Birmingham who without them Dr. King would never have been able to move Birmingham to fruition. And I can't recommend too strongly a look at the Birmingham children's movement. And to look at that, the southern poverty law centered at that piece. And now I'm going to make all the adults look at it because we adults, we tend to be very a-historical. And we don't know our history. And so it's really important that children and young see what they did to create a new America. But we have a range of children, of youth development programs. We have internship programs for all kinds of folk. We have beat the odds celebration for young people who are making it and who are my favorite pool of young leaders. And it just says what a difference one person can make. I mean these are young people who've gone through violence and homelessness and seen parents kill each other, and somehow a teacher or a counselor or a grandparent or a caring neighbor, has been their lifeline to reaffirm that they can make it and they are now wonderful, productive citizens. And there are about 700 of them. And they've gone into the Peace Corps and they're teaching and they are social workers, and they are doctors and lawyers. But then we're really trying to make a very big [inaudible] to draw from different networks and they are particularly interested in the faith networks so that we can help faith communities rediscover what it is they say they believe in. And so we've been having the greatest preachers in America. We have what we call the Moses/Miriam generation. That is hopefully transforming and working with the Joshua/Deborah generation to see if we can't affect the curriculum of the divinity schools. But we are having a mass transformation of leadership from Moses to Joshua. And from Miriam to Deborah in many of our major faith institutions in the black community are going now to 30 year olds and 40 year old preachers, and they need to rediscover their prophetic voice. And so Alex Haley farms where we're building movement and building a critical mass of leaders across generation discipline. I'm so sorry, I'm so glad you were engaged, and I hope you're bring more of them. We have programming year round. We're trying to put everybody through organizing training, but with a context of history and of movement building, which is what I think everybody needs to do. And all of us at the Children's Defense Fund are going to go through organizing training now to the policy people who will understand they need to know how to organize at the community level. So we're so glad that you are there and bring some folks next time and get the message out. But look at our website and see the different youth development programs and hopefully you will join us. Yes sir.
>> Peter Eckstein: My name is Peter Eckstein. I wanted to ask you to speculate a bit about the potential impact of a Obama presidency over let's say the next eight years, laws, executive orders aside, what kind of an impact do you think it can have or will have on the African American community, in terms of redefinition of possibilities in itself. You made some illusion to that, but maybe you can speculate.
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Well I think that already he's had an enormous impact. I mean the yes we can and to see this family in the White House, to see that this young man, and I say to everybody who is in other opposing camps some of whom said this was affirmative action, I said it wasn't affirmative action, he out organized you, he out visioned you, visioned you, he out strategized you, he in every, he just beat you, everybody fair and square because he was smarter and he had move vision and [inaudible] money. And so he was an extraordinary moment, person sent, and stepped up to the plate and I don't know anybody else could have, you know, been the right kind of role model and image. I think he sends an extraordinarily powerful message about that we're going to breakdown the stereotypes about who black families are. Because we are a diverse community, and I think that that family image in the White House has been, is extraordinary for all Americans as well a for young black Americans and for all of us. I think it's given a new sense of possibilities and sense of my example of a young felon in the civil detention facility you might actually be able to get a PhD instead of a GED. And so I think it's, it sends a message to children that I can, and that I, you know, that, that even if I am bi-racial, or even if I am, have an absent father, or even if I had a mother who's on food stamps and I can make it too with hard work and good old core values. And I think he has been using, already in his campaign, his bully pull pit to talk about how we all need to be paying much more attention to parenting, to turn off the TV set, and to turn off the video games, to pay attention to homework and to really focus in on helping children learn. Now there's some dangers. I heard a story the other day, because everybody's parent is saying yes you can, don't use any excuses for telling me why you bring home these bad grades. But then I heard somebody tell, calling me up and saying there's a man with a very seriously autistic child who was telling this child no excuses. And I said, you know we can't carry this to the extreme. But the, the important things is that we need to have these high expectations. We should use this incredible positive example for all of us, and I think it breaks down a whole lot of racial stereotypes as well. But I hope that we can also be clear about what we all have to do to enable him, enable our country to put into place the policies that children need in order to succeed. Because there's nothing worse than having these expectations up here and have them down here in schools with skills and education levels that are down here. So we've got to use this as a moment. We all have a sense of what is possible to put into place the building blocks of success. But I think it's an enormous transformation. It's an enormous generational transformation and I have loved watching the young people get engaged. I hope we can keep them engaged. And hope that all that energy that went into electing him now will go into building the movement to, to, to have a harvest for the policies that we need to have. Yes.
>> Good afternoon, thank you for your talk. Before I came back to work for my PhD in social work, I did a fair amount of work in child welfare. And one of the things that led me to come back and study is the fact that we talk about kids but we, we don't well enough with parents either. There's definitely culpability. We all that language in child welfare policy and law. But there's also the balance because many of these parents themselves were also victims.
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Yes.
>> So how then as a future policy maker, as a future practitioner, as a future educator, do I not only for myself help to navigate that balance, but also to teach others to navigate it as well?
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Well I think that I keep saying over and over again the children don't come in pieces, they come in families. We need to break the cycle, but we need to work with families and with parents. We need to prepare parenting, we need to deal with teen pregnancy prevention, and we need to try to help children, help parents do the decent job that most of them really do want to do and don't know how. And I think some of the most agonizing decisions that anybody can make is, is when to remove a child from a family. I mean how do you balance all of that off? And certainly you should, though not having children, have children removed from families, because parents don't have the income to keep them out of a homeless shelter. And so much of what we can do I think is again by making sure that parents have those supports that enable them to do the better job that most parents want. They need to be able to make a living with a decent wage. They need to have childcare if they are working. And so are not leaving children at home alone because they can't find shelter, and therefore risking their children being put in the child welfare system. But we must try to keep them both together. Make every effort to try to build and, and invest in the extended family network until parents can get themselves back on their, on their feet. But then we must, when children are at risk, and that's always a very hard thing to make sure that you're protecting children but the main thing is to break the cycle. I mean that's going forward. How do we put into place the building blocks for success for children before they reach these stages? How do we make sure that we're identifying children who are potentially at risk in the prenatal stages, and with good family support systems at the beginning? And so I think we should do everything we can to work with parents and with children and then to see what we can do to save the children if we are not able to keep the family together. But it's a very hard set of choices but I think we must bear them both in mind. Children need their parents and need their, need one reliable adult that they can count on. And that is certainly better than what we often have as options in foster care and in other homes. So but it's a hard set of questions, and I appreciate the sensitivity and you just have to keep struggling. And we're trying to find a better balance in the law. But more importantly building in the support services that could prevent removal and then to see how we can foster reunification, but if not, how do we find the best kind of adoptive families. But these are very hard questions. But there's so much we could do if we had systems we've been talking about in place. Yes.
>> Eric Geisham: My name's Eric Geisham, I'm a first year MPB student at the Ford School. First of all thank you for coming. I've had a chance to listen to you a couple different times and I am just thrilled at every chance I get. A couple times you mentioned extreme poverty. And some people would argue that in the United States we only have relative poverty and that we don't actually have extreme poverty. And furthermore some people say that poor people in the United States really aren't that bad off. So I have two questions. First of all, what were the, was the threshold that you used for the extreme poverty for the 40%? And then the second question is, what can you say to kind of argue against that, that mentality that we only have relative poverty in America?
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Well Sheldon is here, and you've got organized poverty know these things. But we're talking about a basic way to, from $10,000 poor income, $10,000 for a family of four, half that is what we talk about as extreme poverty, $20,000 for a family of four. And it's in the book correctly. I have so many numbers running around in my head very often. And about half of that is extreme poverty. I mean I think we all know that the minimum wage hasn't been index inflation until this past year for a lot of people. And, and but we need to look more at how we can redefine what the poverty's threshold should be in America, because I think a lot of people who are living at the poverty level are not able to make ends meet and how there are big fights about whether you are including other benefits into this. But the fact is that we've got millions of people who have been working hard every day with wages that have not kept pace with inflation and who not able to afford a decent place to live, who are not able to meet the most basic needs of their families if they are working because we don't have adequate childcare support, who are not able to afford healthcare. The average family, assuming that you know their employed, the dependency costs of trying to cover your dependents is about $12,000. Well that's about what a minimum wage job pays. And most people cannot afford that. And then most of our, our states, the fair market value of, of rent exceeds the wages of many low income, minimum wage workers. And so I think we need to look hard at, at how we redefine the poverty threshold and how we provide a range of self sufficient work supports. But it's very clear that we've got food lines growing. We've got shelters growing. And shelters have become institutionalized, even though I don't think that they are places for children. But we've gotten used to it and we are now setting up schools for homeless children as, as if this is something that's going to stay with us. But within the context of America I think that we can do much better and I think that we need to continue to have these debates, and I hope that this is a debate that we will continue to have with the kind of leadership [inaudible] national poverty center here. But that is at least a debate that we are beginning to have in a more robust fashion. But what is poverty here. The fact is children are hungry increasingly in numbers of them are there, and those of us who work in soup kitchens or in homeless shelters see what is there. I watch children who have no homes, and something is not computing here. So I think we need to look at the poverty threshold, but I also think we need to put into place the kind of work supports and then talk about how we can create jobs at living wages that will allow people to be able to make the, meet the most basic necessities of their lives. But that's a conversation that must be continued.
>> Dean Collins: Let me make a suggestion, since we're running out of time, but just two more speakers, perhaps I could ask you both to give your questions and then do a combined response?
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Good.
>> Laura Sanders: Thank you. Thank you for being here and your good work and, and inspiration. My name is Laura Sanders and I am representing the [inaudible] Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights. Just in our community alone in the last ten months we've had, we, it's come to our attention that 26 of our families have been raided by immigration customs enforcement, families have been separated, children have been torn away from their parents, violent things have happened in front of these children. We have three children in foster care who have been, because their mother was taken right off the street and deported. And this is happening, we know this is the tip of the iceberg. What's coming to our attention, we know it's happening across the nation. And I'm wondering if you could comment on immigration reform that might help meet the needs of our, our particularly our Latino children who many, many who are here.
>> Marian Wright Edelman: The raids must stop. They are inhumane. They are cruel. They are ripping children away from their parents, they should stop. And we should be speaking up against them, and I felt the same way when we used to look to be one of our earlier studies was the children of women prisoners and you would watch the police come in and rip parents away. And children didn't understand it. And leave children there without any supervision. I mean this is traumatic, and just un-American. And we should stop them, and we should sort of raise that. And we should begin to have a thoughtful debate about immigration policy. And the first thing we can do though is to begin with legal immigrants to see that, I hope that they did include IKEA, and that we get health coverage for legal immigrant children and we are in our all healthy children's bill trying to get healthcare for everybody. But I do hope that immigration reform will be something that we continue to, that we do something about and don't continue to avoid. Because as you know, we have a paradoxical policy of encouraging as many to come in, to provide cheap labor for employees, and then we punish those who do come in for these kinds of activities. So I hope that immigration reform will be early on the agenda, that somebody, that some of our leaders, but it will come because of the pressure from citizens. So but the raids must stop. They're absolutely cruel and they're traumatizing students, children and parents and we should not permit it in America.
>> Laura Sanders: Thank you.
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Yes.
>> Prior to getting the PhD and coming here to teach at University of Michigan, I worked with your son Jonah with Stand For Children.
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Oh good.
>> And I just wondered if there's still plans for June 1st to be an annual day for things to happen, and wondered if there's some plans this year for something to happen?
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Oh Jonah and I have a big debate about, he's into state and local organizing and he is really trying to focus, he's at home tonight, so I hope I can get home tonight in Washington, on how he can build grass roots interest and they are making a real difference in filling up the city halls and county councils and really doing state initiatives to invest in successful children's programs. And I think that he doesn't think that our usual kind of demonstrations on June 1st. But you know after the 1st June Stand For Children in 1996, we did a June 1st in 1997, and that provided the 700 local Stand For Children days. That was the grass roots momentum that enabled us to draft and get an act, the Chip legislation. So I think that maybe we'll have to negotiate it as to whether we can resuscitate June 1st as a day to Stand For Children. But I suspect he is going to want to do it in states and localities, and I'm going to want to do it nationally. So maybe we'll meet somewhere in the middle as we try to bridge our either/or strategies. But I'm very proud of the grass roots stuff that he's creating. And I hope that will continue. Thank you though for what you did.
>> Thank you.
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Yes ma'am.
>> I want to [inaudible] All right U of M undergraduate student and also a foster care alumni of the system. So everything that you pretty much said I've gone through. But one of my questions is I'm graduating this year and I'm trying to work with the University and higher level institutions on actually being involved in creating increasing numbers for foster care alumni and matriculate to colleges. And I wanted to know some of your recommendations on how to actually make that happen as an undergraduate student and previous foster care alumni.
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Well I want to make sure I, I understood the [inaudible] of what you were trying to say in terms of you're trying to get the university to do what? I got the beginning and I got the end.
>> Be involved in helping foster care kids in the communities matriculate to college and higher level institutions such as University of Michigan.
>> Marian Wright Edelman: Well it's very important. And I've been in, and one of the things that we're focusing on in the cradle is how do we just figure out how to get the schools to, because in looking at children who are leaving foster care, how do we get the schools and how do we get the community to provide the support so that they can stay in school and do well in school and be prepared to apply for places like the University of Michigan. But right now, and I think that that's one of those sub-pieces of things as we're trying to, to, to break out the cradle and to management pieces for action, while seeing the whole, that we really have got to focus on is the support systems for children coming out of juvenile detention, and the support systems for children who have been in foster care and multiple foster care systems, and I've watched, I have 12 foster sisters and brothers after I left home. And the supports that they need in order to succeed have to be there, either from their previous foster care families and as you know many of them are in multiple placements. From other mentors in the community, and I'm so pleased about the growing voice of organized foster care young people. But we need to find ways of bridging that gap and, and making sure that they are able to graduate from school, and get the kind of tutoring they need, and are able to find a welcome set of helps in our universities so that they can get on tragectory towards success. And I'd love to have you hook up with Marilee Allen and with our foster care network so that we can try to work with you. Thank you so much.
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>> Dean Collins: On behalf of all of us, our thanks to Marine Wright Edelman for a wonderful afternoon of provocative thought and a call to action in such an important area. I'd like to thank all of you for joining us here this afternoon. We do have a short reception, so please stay and interact with us for a little while. There'll be drinks I guess on either side. Again thank you very much for joining us for the Ford School's 2009 Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Lecture. [Inaudible]
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