It is a busy time for Children’s Defense Fund! Last week, we kicked off a yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of our founding. We rejoiced with a Celebration of Joy at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. We unveiled a forward-facing public policy agenda meant to improve the lives of young people across America during a two-day policy summit at Howard University. As we celebrated 30 years of service through CDF Freedom Schools, CDF staff and volunteers participated in our inaugural Marian Wright Edelman National Day of Service, addressing needs of children and youth across Washington, D.C.
For those who joined us, thanks. For those who were not able to be physically present, I’d like to share some thoughts I communicated with those gathered. Please accept these words of gratitude as we turn to this season of thanks, together.
We build on foundations we did not lay.
We warm ourselves by fires we did not light.
We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant.
We drink from wells we did not dig.
We profit from persons we did not know.
This is as it should be.
Together we are more than any one person could be.
Together we can build across the generations.
Together we can renew our hope and faith in the life that is yet to unfold.
Together we can heed the call to a ministry of care and justice.
We are ever bound in community.
May it always be so.
This is how the late Rev. Peter Raible, poetically paraphrased a passage of scripture shared by Christian and Jewish faith traditions. As we enter a season of celebration and Sankofa for Children’s Defense Fund, we do so with gratitude, humility, and appreciation for those who laid the foundation, lit the fires, planted the trees and dug deep wells of moral courage from which we quench our thirst for a nation where children and youth flourish.
Leading this list is our Founder and President Emerita, Marian Wright Edelman.
Before others in the contemporary Civil Rights movement, anti-poverty movement or women’s movement read the tea leaves of the nation’s weariness from fights for racial justice and equal rights, she discerned the wisdom to call to the country’s higher angels to care for children. For more than forty-five years, she built the house we live in. To be clear, this is not just a house that CDF staffers, volunteers, program participants, or alumni live in. This edifice shelters anyone who has lifted their voices for positive change for children in the last two generations of American public life. Marian Wright Edelman taught us.
Of course, no movement persists with one leader alone. The “first followers” make all the difference. Others who dedicated generations of their own lives to advance this vision propped the door open for many of us to join in. Paul Smith. MaryLee Allen. Karen Pittman. Olive Wright Covington. Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald. Hillary Rodham (Clinton). Angela Glover Blackwell. Geoffrey Canada. For these pillars of Children’s Defense Fund’s heritage, we give thanks.
While appreciation for their servant leadership is appropriate, it is insufficient. Now, we must press the vision of child well-being in America forward. Together.
The old hymnist rings true, “A charge to keep, we have.” I have shared with some of you that my sense of call in this moment is the responsibility “to extend the institutional legacy of one of America’s greatest prophets.” With such a vocation, I am glad that I’m not alone, but joined by so many of you. An innovating staff team. Dedicated volunteers. Committed program, policy, and movement partners. Supportive donors and funders. Raible was right. “We are ever bound in community.”
By your witness with CDF, you are building community to make sure every young person in this nation grows up with dignity, hope, and joy. In this community, they are seen, safe, and secure enough to sing and dance like nobody’s watching. This is our vision for child well-being in America. Thank you for hoping and helping to make this happen. May it always be so.