February 29, 2012


(Jackson, Miss., February 22) – Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), told educators, parents, and children’s advocates attending a Jackson conference that they must work collectively to make positive changes for impoverished communities and children. Edelman was the keynote speaker at the Strengthening Our Connections Conference, which focused on education reform and early childhood education.

“We’ve got to set the agenda for our children,” said Edelman. “Wake up and think about what you’re doing. We’re going to have to work together. Travel in pairs. You can’t get very far by yourself.”

The conference’s agenda included a session on the pros and cons of charter schools. Edelman made her position clear while Mississippi’s state senate debated and eventually approved a bill that would allow charter schools in practically every school district in the state.

“I hope that we’ll pay attention to charter schools’ legislation because the devil is in the details,” said Edelman. “If schools are failing 80 percent of our students, then something needs to be changed. I’m for public charter schools. We do not need to have public schools drained for segregated private academies. It’s become a new big business like private prisons.”

The Children’s Defense Fund-Southern Regional Office/SPARK-MS (Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids), the Center for Education Innovation, and the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative (MLICCI) sponsored the conference. Groups who work in local school districts gathered at the Mississippi e-Center to consider how to expand their successful models statewide as lawmakers consider cuts to education funding.

“Whatever charter schools legislation gets passed, it still will not cover all the children who need a quality education,” said Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald, director of the CDF’s Southern Regional Office in Jackson. “While we have to be cognizant of the impact charter school legislation will have on public schools, we will have to be just as diligent to ensure that public schools provide all the children the best education they can.” “We must make sure that children are in school and ready to learn. Parents, childcare programs, Head Start programs, public schools and communities have to work together to make sure that happens."

Edelman’s visit to Jackson was the end of an eight-day stay in Mississippi. She visited a youth detention center, spoke at the University of Mississippi, and saw familiar places and friends in the Delta and central Mississippi. In 1965, Edelman became the first black female admitted to the Mississippi Bar and directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson. She recalled the dangers and risks that black parents faced to lead the fight to desegregate public schools and told conference attendees that they must teach children their history.

“I was so moved when I thought about the incredible courage and commitment made by people who didn’t have many resources,” said Edelman. “We need to think of those sacrifices before we lose it all.

Edelman worked alongside the late Jackson, Miss. civil rights activists Medgar Evers. She would take her Civil Rights agenda to Washington, D.C. and start the CDF in 1973. The Children's Defense Fund Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.

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