For Immediate Release
October 1, 2013
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Washington, DC – Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made the remarks below at the 40th Anniversary Celebration of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). In her speech, Secretary Clinton discusses the need to invest in the education and health of children, her work at the Clinton Foundation and her experience working with CDF and Marian Wright Edelman. The event was held on Monday, September 30, 2013 at the Kennedy Center. You can watch the speech online at http://youtu.be/XRR31znjngk.
What a great evening! Oh. I tell you, my only regret about tonight and this remarkable 40th anniversary is that I wish we could have held it at the Capitol and shared the enthusiasm, the stories, the resolve, the commitment and mission with those Members of our Congress, so that they understand why we can never give up. As Marian has said, this is the work of a lifetime. We’ve made progress. We’ve seen changes. We have watched the results of these young people who have been on the stage with us, and we know that that’s what America is really all about, the kind of values and commitment that we’ve seen.
I am one of the many people whose life was changed by Marian, and I was very lucky that I tracked her down one day when she was at the law school we both attended and asked her if I could have a job. She said she had no jobs because she had no money to pay anybody. I said, “Well, that’s a problem because I need to make money to go to law school,” and she said, “Well, if you can figure out how to get yourself paid, I’ll give you a job.” So I looked everywhere I could possibly look and found a paid stipend for the Law Students Civil Rights Research Council internship, and off I went for my first experience working for Marian.
And we’ve heard a lot about the example that Marian has set, the passion that she brings to her work and inspires in so many of us, but I want to add that she also really looked at the evidence. She never was unprepared. She knew that if we were to make a case on behalf of the children of our country, we had to have our facts straight. We had to know exactly what was going on in order to be advocates and agents of change.
One of my first experiences was when Marian intuited by sort of talking to people and then analyzed Census data and school enrollment and came to us and said, “I don’t understand it. I mean, there are so many more children in our country than we have in school who are of school age. We have to figure out what’s going on.” So I was one of the many people recruited to go door to door in some select Census districts and literally knocking on the door and, when someone answered the door, saying, “Do you have any children in the home who are not in school?” It was that hard daily work of gathering the facts, and what did I find? I found some children weren’t in school because they had to work to help support the family or they had to take care of their siblings, but I mostly found children with disabilities who in those days were not really welcome in our schools, children whose families couldn’t afford the wheelchair or the hearing aid or the other intervention that might have made it possible for them to attend school, and I was one of many who reported back the data. And as a result of all the work by so many of us, the Children’s Defense Fund published its very first report called “Children Out of School in America.”
And then Marian took the data and used it to convince lawmakers in Washington that more needed to be done to make sure that all of our children, including our children with disabilities, have the chance for an education, and in 1975, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. And for me, that was transformative.
Marian was equal parts passion and compassion, toughness and tenderness, and relentless on behalf of children, justice, and progress.
And then in the 1980s, CDF successfully pushed to expand Medicaid to cover more pregnant women and children under 5 and children with disabilities. In the 1990s, we worked together to create the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, to improve the foster care and adoption systems, to expand Early Head Start, and then after 2000, CDF kept fighting for kids in foster care, in the juvenile justice system, in Head Start, working with both Republicans and Democrats, and of course, the work goes on.
There are dozens of laws on the books of the United States protecting children and supporting families that would not be there were it not for the Children’s Defense Fund. And I for one am very happy that even though now 90 percent of our children have access to health care, when the Affordable Care Act actually goes into implementation tomorrow, we will raise that number.
One of the many things that I love about Marian is that no matter how depressing the headlines, she keeps her eye on the trend lines. What’s happening with our kids? What can we do to improve the chances that more kids will be able to achieve educational success? And the Freedom Schools is a brilliant intervention in children’s lives in places where for too long, there wasn’t that kind of opportunity to learn, to collaborate, to think and dream as big as possible.
So although we are celebrating 40 years, which seems like a really long time, in the history of a country, it’s not that long. It’s just that our mission is so precious and urgent because, after all, today in America, more than 16 million children live in poverty, the highest percentage since the 1990s, and despite all the advances we’ve made, our babies are still more likely to be born underweight and undernourished in the last year than they were in 1990. And the prevalence of chronic health conditions in American children, including obesity, asthma, behavior and learning problems, and other conditions have more than doubled in the past two decades. And yes, nearly half of all the recipients of food stamps are children, 22 million who rely on that program to get the food they need to be healthy, to be able to pay attention in school, to thrive for the future.
So why on earth would some want to be tearing down the support structure that keeps our children healthy?
So, yes, there’s a lot of work to be done. I for one am looking forward to continuing that work, both as a partner with CDF and at the Clinton Foundation working with my husband and my daughter, trying to make sure that we all do what we can to help more kids beat the odds, and I could not be prouder or happier to have sat in the audience and heard the stories of just a few of the young people, to see the performances of just a few of the young people whose lives have been touched, even transformed by the Children’s Defense Fund.
So I know I was sitting next to Marian when we heard that extraordinary speech from our young City Councilmember in Stockton, and, you know, I do have an eye for political talent.
So I kind of expect that we’ll be hearing more from him, but he had this great cadence going about how in the next 40 years, the next 40 years. And Marian is going, “We can’t wait that long.”
Well, we can’t. We can’t. We want the next generation and the generation after that to have many more opportunities to realize the American dream, however they define it, to be able to live up to their own God-given potential, and we want to keep making progress every year, year by year, to make it clear that every child is our child. And we will not rest until every single child has the same chance to beat the odds as the ones you saw tonight.
Thank you and God bless you Marian Edelman.