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Children’s activist speaks on importance of education

Marian Wright Edelman spoke to students as part of university lecture series

By Bonnie Meibers, For The Miami Student

"We don't stop, we don't move backwards. We move forward onto the next movement," Marian Wright Edelman said, talking about a new civil rights movement that would fight child poverty in America.

Edelman spoke in Hall Auditorium Thursday, Feb. 5. She is the first guest speaker to visit Miami this spring in the "Celebrating Social Justice Milestones" lecture series.

Susan Mosley-Howard, Interim Dean of the College of Education, Health and Society (EHS), detailed why Edelman was invited to speak in this lecture series.

"Marian Edelman is a big advocate of education and social work and is well known by many of us here in the College [of Education, Health and Society]," Mosley-Howard said.

Mosley-Howard was the catalyst for this lecture series and has brought various speakers to Miami in the past. Deepa Willingham, founder of Promise of Assurance to Children Everywhere Universal school (PACE), and Kevin Kumashiro, author of "Bad Teacher!: How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture," are just a few of the speakers she brought to Miami as part of the lecture series in the fall.

Mosley-Howard could not comment on other speakers coming to Miami following Edelman as a part of the "Celebrating Social Justice Milestones" lecture series because they currently have not signed contracts with the University.

The purpose of "Celebrating Social Justice Milestones" is to honor the social justice and civil rights movements. It is significant this year because it is the 25th anniversary of the drafting of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer and the signing of the Civil Rights Act and the 60th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which outlawed "separate but equal" schooling.

Mosley-Howard hopes that through this lecture series, students and community members who attend will become aware of the importance of history.

"History is present, not just events from the past," she said.

Mosley-Howard also said she wanted students to leave the lecture inspired, knowing their own life journey can be just as important and inspiring as Edelman's.

"Each speaker brings another piece of the puzzle," she said.

Edelman did just that. She enlightened the audience on her life's work.

"If society cares about children, it should act on it. You can do better, and you must do better," Edelman urged audience members last night.

Edelman began her speech last night by passing out sign up sheets so that she could stay in contact with audience members who wished get involved with the next movement. She asked her audience not to forget that ordinary people started the civil rights movement, and to use their votes and voices to stand up for America's children.

"Remember that Noah's arc was built by amateurs. The Titanic was built by professionals."

Marian Wright Edelman was born in 1939 in Bennettsville, South Carolina. She is the daughter of a Baptist preacher who stressed the importance of education to his children. The author and social rights activist has been fighting for the rights of impoverished children, children of color and children with disabilities for over 40 years.

Edelman has accomplished much in her life. Among these accomplishments are graduating Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, and later Yale Law School, becoming the first African American woman to be admitted to the Mississippi bar, and founding the Children's Defense Fund. After being admitted to the bar, Edelman began practicing law with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Some of her first work involved representing activists during Freedom Summer (1964), training for which took place on Miami University's own Western campus when it was still the Western College for Women.

"It's neat to think that her life's work really began with defending those activists who trained on Western [campus]," Mosley-Howard said.

During her talk, Edelman stated that it would take approximately $77 billion, or two percent of the nation's budget, to make a dent in stopping child poverty.

"It was eye opening how many of America's children are living in poverty and how little of the national budget it would take to get 60% of those kids out of poverty," Miami University student, Colin McDonough, said when asked what he gained from attending the lecture.

Mosely-Howard said Edelman has continued what this lecture series started in the fall, which is to inspire.

"All of us want to feel that we can make big changes. But we don't have to be a big dog. Sometimes we just need to be a persistent, strategic little flea," said Edelman.