Marian Wright Edelman Implores People to Take Up Dr. King’s Fight
Marian Wright Edelman (left) after her speech in Limestone's Fullerton Auditorium.

Using a rapid fire delivery filled with jaw-dropping statistics and impassioned calls to action, Marian Wright Edelman delivered a blistering speech in Limestone College's Fullerton Auditorium on Monday, January 17.

The Civil Rights icon and ferocious advocate for children's rights was the keynote speaker during Limestone's celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.

Once taking to the podium, Edelman immediately launched into astonishing poverty figures in America that seem to be at odds with the country's sense of literal worth and might. "What good is it to be the richest and most powerful country in the world while at the same time we lose our soul and character?," she rhetorically asked the audience. She noted that in 2009, 44 million people were in poverty, up from 40 million in 2008 - the third consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty-and that the 2009 figure is the largest number in the 51 years for which poverty estimates have been published.

Edelman then pivoted quickly to the problems of poverty and lack of education in America, and the propensity of both leading to what she calls "from the cradle to the prison" routine, especially for minorities. "Roughly 40% of black children in this country are born poor, and 70% are born out of wedlock," she said. "And how sad is it that today, in the year 2011, that 80% of black and Latino children cannot read or compute at the 4th, 8th, and 12th-grade levels? What chance at success do these young people have if they cannot even read?"

Again and again, Edelman, a Yale educated lawyer, emphasized that education and civic involvement are the keys to turning back the dangerous trend of poverty and crime. "For years, I've been encouraging people to stay out of law school and major in education instead. We need as many people in the classroom as we can get."

As an example of civic action aimed at education, Edelman, who founded the Children's Defense Fund in 1973, spoke talked at length about the organization's Freedom Schools program. "Freedom Schools work within communities throughout this country to provides summer and after-school enrichment through a model curriculum that supports children and families," she said. "In fact, our teachers are mostly college students who are energized to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Some people say that young people do not want to volunteer; I tell them young people just need an opportunity to serve. And that's what they have through programs like Freedom Schools.

"So many of us get caught up in celebrating the life of Dr. King rather than following it. The drug dealers are open for business 24-hours a day 365 days a year; it's time we realize that we do not need to wait on Dr. King to come back because he's not. The time to act is now; the time to do what is right is ripe."