This week I heard Marian Wright Edelman speak at the University of Mississippi. Mrs. Edelman has a long history in Mississippi. Besides being the first black woman to pass the Mississippi bar she has worked for both civil rights and the rights of the poor. As founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, she has spent the bulk of her career advocating for the needs of children.
In her lecture, she emphasized that when a country has millions of high school dropouts, high teen pregnancy rates and sky high incarceration rates the failure is in the system. She repeatedly asked how the richest country in the world can sit idly by and let so much youth waste away.
It starts with the failure of adults. Too many of us disinterestedly watch as generations of young Americans – Black, Brown and White – make bad, impulsive decisions that they have to live with the rest of their lives. Many of these kids that drop out or get pregnant or end up in jail feel wholly alienated from society and feel as if there is no one who cares and no one who will extend them a helping hand. When our solution is to lock them up in jail and severely limit their future we have failed.
The second failure is that of elected officials who willingly turn a blind eye to critical social issues like poverty. Just because we are in a capitalist system is no reason to wantonly seek out harder lives for the poor. Too many politicians complain about poor persons who pay no income tax as if the poor pay no taxes at all. The working poor still pay sales taxes, property taxes, Medicare and Social Security taxes. Then some politicians use this as an excuse to roll back the social safety net. That is, if they care about the poor at all.
The failure is in all of us: We’re just not demanding more attention and resources for the neediest among us.
Empires collapse from within, from disinvestment in people. We should not allow uncaring politicians and selfish corporate interests to continue leading us down this path.
Quite simply, America needs more Marian Wright Edelmans.
MARVIN KING received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of North Texas and is now an Associate Professor of Political Science with a joint appointment in the African American Studies Program at the University of Mississippi. He conducts research into how political institutions affect African American politics. Marvin is available for public speaking engagements and you can follow him on Twitter @kingpolitics