Marian Wright Edelman Quotes

Marian Wright Edelman (1939 - )

Marian Wright Edelman 2004
Marian Wright Edelman 2004. Chris Weeks/WireImage for Evolutionary Media Group/Getty Images

Marian Wright Edelman, the founder and President of the Children's Defense Fund, was the first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi state bar. Marian Wright Edelman has published her ideas in several books. The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours was a surprising success.  Hillary Clinton's involvement with the Children's Defense Fund helped bring attention to the organization.

Selected Marian Wright Edelman Quotations

• Service is the rent we pay to be living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time.

• If you don't like the way the world is, you change it. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time.

• If we don't stand up for children, then we don't stand for much.

• I'm doing what I think I was put on this earth to do. And I'm really grateful to have something that I'm passionate about and that I think is profoundly important.

• You really can change the world if you care enough.

• Service is what life is all about.

• When I fight about what is going on in the neighborhood, or when I fight about what is happening to other people's children, I'm doing that because I want to leave a community and a world that is better than the one I found.

• The inability to get health care because people lack insurance, kills, less traumatically, and less visibly than terrorism, but the result is the same.

And poor housing and poor education and low wages kills the spirit and the capacity and the quality of life that all of us deserve. - 2001

• The legacy I want to leave is a child-care system that says that no kid is going to be left alone or left unsafe.

• Children don't vote but adults who do must stand up and vote for them.

• People who don't vote have no line of credit with people who are elected and thus pose no threat to those who act against our interests.

• The challenge of social justice is to evoke a sense of community that we need to make our nation a better place, just as we make it a safer place . - 2001

• If we think we have ours and don't owe any time or money or effort to help those left behind, then we are a part of the problem rather than the solution to the fraying social fabric that threatens all Americans.

• Never work just for money or for power. They won't save your soul or help you sleep at night.

• I don't care what my children choose to do professionally, just as long as within their choices they understand they've got to give something back.

• If you as parents cut corners, your children will too. If you lie, they will too. If you spend all your money on yourselves and tithe no portion of it for charities, colleges, churches, synagogues, and civic causes, your children won't either. And if parents snicker at racial and gender jokes, another generation will pass on the poison adults still have not had the courage to snuff out.

• Being considerate of others will take you and your children further in life than any college or professional degree.

• You're not obligated to win. You're obligated to keep trying to do the best you can every day.

• We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.

• Whoever said anybody has a right to give up?

• No person has the right to rain on your dreams.

• My faith has been the driving thing of my life. I think it is important that people who are perceived as liberals not be afraid of talking about moral and community values.

• When Jesus Christ asked little children to come to him, he didn't say only rich children, or White children, or children with two-parent families, or children who didn't have a mental or physical handicap. He said, "Let all children come unto me."

• Don't feel entitled to anything you didn't sweat and struggle for.

on child care: I who have everything am hanging in there by my fingernails. I don't know how poor women manage. - interview with Ms. Magazine

• We are living in a time of unbearable dissonance between promise and performance; between good politics and good policy; between professed and practiced family values; between racial creed and racial deed; between calls for community and rampant individualism and greed; and between our capacity to prevent and alleviate human deprivation and disease and our political and spiritual will to do so.

• The 1990s struggle is for America's conscience and future -- a future that is being determined right now in the bodies and minds and spirits of every American child.

• The fact is we made dramatic progress in the 1960s in eradicating hunger and improving the health status of children, and then we just stopped trying.

• One dollar up front prevents the spending of many dollars down the road.

• We are willing to spend the least amount of money to keep a kid at home, more to put him in a foster home and the most to institutionalize him.

• There's ignorance in people who just don't know that we have a national child emergency. And there are a lot of people who are conveniently ignorant--they don't want to know.

• Investing in [children] is not a national luxury or a national choice. It's a national necessity. If the foundation of your house is crumbling, you don't say you can't afford to fix it while you're building astronomically expensive fences to protect it from outside enemies. The issue is not are we going to pay -- it's are we going to pay now, up front, or are we going to pay a whole lot more later on.

• This slogan of ending welfare as we know it is not going to help the more than 70 percent of the poor who work every day. Wages have not kept pace with inflation and with changes in the structure of our economy. There are almost 38 million poor Americans, most of whom work, most of whom are white.

So the way we play the race issue in these matters keeps a lot of folk of all colors in poverty.

• Parents have become so convinced educators know what is best for children that they forget that they themselves are really the experts.

• Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.

• Education is a precondition to survival in America today.

• Question: Organizations like James Dobson's Focus on the Family tend to argue that child care, child welfare, is a family-first enterprise, whereas CDF wants to place child rearing in the hands of the government. How do you respond to those kinds of criticisms? 

I wish they would do their homework. I wish they would read my book The Measure of Our Success. In these matters I believe in family above all. I believe in parents. I believe that most parents will do the best job they can. At CDF we always say that the most important thing we can do is support parenting and parents. But most of our public policies and private-sector policies make it harder rather than easier for parents to do their job. I favor parental choice. I was opposed to changes in the welfare system that would demand that mothers go out to work. -- 1998 interview, The Christian Century

• The old notion that children are the private property of parents dies very slowly. In reality, no parent raises a child alone. How many of us nice middle-class folk could make it without our mortgage reduction? That's a government subsidy of families, yet we resent putting money directly into public housing. We take our deduction for dependent care yet resent putting money directly into child care. Common sense and necessity are beginning to erode old notions of the private invasion of family life, because so many families are in trouble. - 1993 interview, Psychology Today

• The outside world told black kids when I was growing up that we weren't worth anything. But our parents said it wasn't so, and our churches and our schoolteachers said it wasn't so. They believed in us, and we, therefore, believed in ourselves.

• No one, Eleanor Roosevelt said, can make you feel inferior without your consent. Never give it.

• You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation.

More About Marian Wright Edelman

About These Quotes

This is an informal collection assembled over many years. I regret that I am not be able to provide the original source if it is not listed with the quote.