By Max Wynn
UCLA Luskin Student Writer
Marian Wright Edelman, the second speaker in the 2013-14 UCLA Luskin Lecture Series, delivered a stirring call to action to the community members, city leaders, educators and students who had gathered to hear her speak on Wednesday.
Edelman is the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, as well a veteran of the civil rights movement, and her speech at the California African American Museum emphasized that child advocacy and the struggle for social equity were inseparably linked.
Edelman described child advocacy as a marathon, but there was a sense of urgency as she outlined the issues facing America’s children and the nation as a whole.
“If we don’t break up that cradle to prison pipeline we are going to lose the last 50, 60 years of social progress,” she said. “We’ve got to replace massive incarceration and private prisons with early child education and health care and good schools.
“If we don’t save our children we cannot save this nation’s future,” she said.
Having established the critical role of child advocacy in securing a stronger and more equitable United States, Edelman declared that it was time for a movement. She emphasized throughout the night that for the nation’s children to overcome the formidable obstacles they face, Americans must share a renewed dedication to serving the greater good.
In his introductory remarks, Duane Dennis, the executive director of the child advocacy group Pathways, and a commissioner of First 5 LA, explained that to really know Marian Wright Edelman is to understand the value she places in service.
“Service is the rent we pay for being, it is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time” he read, quoting her words. He went on to say that “her service, her life, her very being has enriched us all.”
As the lecture drew to a close Edelman told the story of a dinner party Dr. Martin Luther King attended less than a year before his death. Dr. King shocked the guests at the party by stating that he feared that they were integrating into a burning house. He feared that the country was going to be undone by extreme materialism, extreme militarism, and extreme racism. All there was to be done, he said, was to go out there and be firemen, to sound the alarm.
“I want to tell you that it’s time to get out there and sound the alarm” Edelman said, her voice growing louder. “This is a dangerous time, but we can turn danger into hope.”
Following the lecture, as the audience filed out of the auditorium many stayed behind to chat or have their picture taken with Edelman. One audience member turned to her friend and, with a palpable sense of joy, compared talking to Edelman with meeting Dr. King.
The Luskin Lecture Series is designed to enhance public discourse on topics relevant to today’s societal needs. Bringing renowned public intellectuals and scholars together with national and local leaders, the Luskin Lecture Series presents issues that are changing the way our country addresses its most pressing problems. For more information on upcoming Luskin Lecture Series events, please click here.