With Help From Friends, Children’s Defense Fund Fights On

Georgetown may be a nurturing place for children, but not every Washington child grows up in fortunate surroundings. The future of many children is determined by circumstances beyond their — and their families’ — control, with obstacles that can wreak havoc.

One organization’s efforts, however, show that a child’s destiny does not have to be permanently settled from the moment of birth. The nonprofit organization Children’s Defense Fund, where “children are always a priority,” is doing what it can to advocate for children, especially those in need.

CDF founder Marian Wright Edelman was the first African American woman licensed to practice law in Mississippi. In her legal work, she would advocate for the rights of the poor and the marginalized.

What had been going on in Mississippi attracted the attention of leading national figures such as Robert Kennedy. Harvard University partnered with Edelman to do a comprehensive research project on child poverty in America. It concluded that the issues related to child poverty were widespread and not confined to only one area or one state.

These findings led Edelman to establish the Washington Research Project in 1973, which became Children’s Defense Fund in 1978.

Children’s Defense Fund continues to research child poverty, studying such issues as children’s health insurance, affordable childcare and quality education, the latter focusing on children who face the challenges of poverty, disability or inequality.

The organization also runs community-based programs such as CDF Freedom Schools and Beat The Odds. The goals of these programs are to educate and empower children and to train young adults as community leaders for advocacy and nonviolent social action. CDF has offices in California, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Ohio and Texas, in addition to Washington, D.C.

Alumni of CDF’s Beat the Odds program have gone on to study at universities, in many cases graduating with honors and finding secure jobs.

On May 22, Georgetown author Kitty Kelley hosted a Change the Odds for Children reception at her Dumbarton Street home. Kelley met Edelman when both were presenting at an evening program at the National Archives about the 1963 March on Washington. “For me, it was love at first sight,” Kelley said. “She understands that investing in children, giving them the wings to fly, makes a better world for all of us.”

Kelley said the inspiring book, “Let Freedom Ring: Stanley Tretick’s Iconic Images of the March on Washington,” which includes photos that Kelley inherited from Tretick, is as much Edelman’s as it is hers. “She wrote the foreword for Stanley’s pictures, and I wrote the accompanying essay,” Kelley said. The proceeds from sales of the book go to Children’s Defense Fund.

In the current political climate, CDF’s efforts aim to prevent the rollback of health insurance coverage for all children and cripple what the organization calls the Cradle to Prison Pipeline that particularly affects young people of color.

“Unfortunately, the current list of challenges at times seems overwhelming,” Mark Publow, CDF’s chief development officer, told The Georgetowner. But with lots of supporters — especially those like Kelley — the group will continue to fight the good fight for the children.

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