Child Watch® Column: "An Open Letter to the United States Senate "

Release Date: July 14, 2017

Marian Wright Edelman

I learned my first lessons about injustice and health as a little Black girl growing up in segregated Bennettsville, South Carolina. I remember my parents’ and my sadness over the senseless death of little Johnny Harrington, who lived three houses down from our church who died before he reached 10 because his hard working grandmother didn’t know about the need for or have the money for him to get a tetanus shot after he stepped on a rusted nail. I also remember being awakened in the middle of the night after a Black migrant family’s car collided with a White truck driver’s vehicle on the highway in front of our parsonage, and the horror I felt when my Daddy, my siblings and I witnessed the White ambulance driver and attendants arrive on the scene only to leave behind the seriously injured Black migrant worker after they saw that the White truck’s passengers were not hurt. And I remember the loss of a playmate who lived around the corner who died from a broken neck after jumping off the bridge at Crooked Creek nearby where many Black children swam and many Black families fished for food. When I got older, I learned the creek was an outlet for hospital and other sewage.

The sorrow and outrage and sense of injustice I felt as a child at senseless deaths and injuries shaped my life’s work. I cannot stand seeing any child mistreated, placed at risk or excluded from essential services because of the color of their skin or the poverty of their parents or grandparents they did not choose. God did not make two classes of children and my Biblical values and my parents’ efforts to live up to its teachings enjoined me to believe each child is sacred. During the Civil Rights Movement it was always clear that health care was one of the basic rights for which we were fighting because it could mean life or death. As my friend and mentor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.” I would never have believed that decades later Dr. King’s words would still ring true and that after fifty years of hard-earned progress expanding access to health coverage for 95 percent of all children, it could all be ripped away in a heartless game of politics and greed that disregards human life — even the smallest human life. In the wealthiest nation on earth, the fact that we are still unwilling to treat health care as a right available to all regardless of color, income or creed is a disgrace. That child lives are considered political fodder rather than a sacred responsibility by every adult is unjust and shameful.

You, the ever powerful United States Senate, will soon have a choice to make when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brings the deeply harmful, flawed, unpopular and misnamed Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) — it should be called the Worse Care Reconciliation Act — to the Senate floor for a vote. This draconian bill will unravel decades of progress fighting for more health equity and justice for all. I hope every voter will stand up for children, the disabled, the elderly, and the most vulnerable among us and make sure those who vote against them are held accountable.

At a time when 95 percent of children in America have health coverage after years of laboriously achieved incremental progress with bipartisan leadership and the percentage of uninsured Americans is at a record low, will you vote for renewed pain and suffering or forward progress? Will you vote to end Medicaid as we know it — a lifeline for more than 37 million children and more than 40 percent of children with special health care needs — to pay for a giant tax cut for wealthy Americans and corporations who don’t need or deserve it? Will you vote to rip away health coverage from 22 million Americans and leave millions more paying a lot more for skimpier coverage? Will you vote to undermine coverage for essential services for children and other Americans including those with pre-existing conditions? Will you vote to strip important and popular protections, returning us to a day when discrimination based on age, gender, health status and ability to pay is permitted? Will you vote to deprive millions of Americans mental health and substance abuse treatment in the midst of a national opioid crisis?

You may be wooed with “fixes” being negotiated behind the scenes that tinker around the edges of the cruel, unjust Better Care Reconciliation Act, but make no mistake: it is irreparably flawed and no altering of growth rates and caps, taxes, or creating special “funds” or “risk pools” will fix it. It deserves a swift and decisive death in the Senate if we are to keep any semblance of an American sense of fairness and moral decency alive.

I have just returned from two days in the Mississippi Delta which Senators Robert Kennedy, Joseph Clark and George Murphy visited 50 years ago where they saw children with listless eyes and bloated bellies from lack of food and health care. Mississippi is one of 19 states that turned down Medicaid expansion money their people need. Health injustice still disproportionately affects people of color but those who will suffer come from every race in every state.

Would you vote to deprive your own children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews of basic life supports? I suspect not. Denying children essential health care makes no moral or economic sense. Healthy children and adults make America stronger and safer. So at this critical moment in our nation’s history, I hope you will stand up for children, the disabled, and the elderly left behind in multiple ways by the politics of greed and self-interest. Please vote NO on the misnamed Better Care Reconciliation Act — a mean-spirited, draconian, un-American step backward that would leave preventable suffering among millions in its wake.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Anonymous at: July 17, 2017
Our children are our future and our all!!!

Submitted by Ms. Bob-e at: July 17, 2017
Mrs. Edelman's words eloquently capture the necessity for all to stand and speak out against this despicable plan. I have and will continue to contact those whom I voted for to ask that they vote against this thing. in addition, I'll continue to encourage others to speak against it.

Submitted by mlib at: July 17, 2017
I think it's time for change. Thank you for your work.

Submitted by Lainie at: July 17, 2017
Brilliant! You understand deeply, Dr. Edelman, and have written, with clarity and common sense. You have appealled to and given instructions to those who say they represent all Americans. I HOPE AND PRAY every one of them: Republican, Democrat and Independent, takes time to read EVERY word of your letter, and then ACT SWIFTLY, WITH MORAL COURAGE AND POLITICAL AGENCY /DECENCY; TO RETAIN AND IMPROVE THE CURRENT AFFORDABLE HEALTHCARE ACT BY WORKING ACROSS PARTY LINES TO ENSURE FULL HEALTHCARE FOR EVERY AMERICAN! YOUR LETTER GIVES THEM ALL AN EQUALLY ENDOWED PLACE FROM WHICH TO START: THE HEART! With heartfelt thanks!

Submitted by jazing at: July 17, 2017
I appreciate reminding the importance of our children. The big concern of abortion and then not taking care of the child they are wanting to live, makes no heart sense

Submitted by Fern at: July 17, 2017
The acronym BCRA is similar to the pre-independent Jamaican word bacra or baccra which represented the 'powerful' British (white) ruler or overseer over the lowly Jamaican. The word is a sad reminder of bygone days, clearly representing a return to a backward past.

Submitted by Fran at: July 17, 2017
Excellent article. Need a new Bill for sure. Let's ensure all children have access to quality healthcare.

Submitted by gann at: July 16, 2017
thank you for standing up for our children, Dr Edelman

Submitted by Anonymous at: July 16, 2017
To propose a healthcare program that steals healthcare from children is criminal. You should be jailed for this proposal.

Submitted by Cindy at: July 16, 2017
I admire Mrs. Edleman's work and Children's Defense Fund determination to help those whose voice is unheard. I grew up in Mississippi not experiencing hungry or poverty; I roamed around as an African- American child with not a care in the world. This is the world my father was blessed and fortunate to provide for my family. Later, in my earlier 20's, I decided to take a position with a school district in Mississippi. Since I was a new hire, I received "picked over" assignments. I was assigned three schools in high poverty areas. My world changed with opened eyes, I began to search beyond myself, desiring to become a resource and conduit (no matter how small) of help. A pencil or a few sheets of paper to those who asked, an extra smile and truly listening to those in need. Life is a lesson and I still have a learners permit! Many assignments later, I'm a home health provider, a different state but just as many life lessons to learn. Best Regards!

Submitted by Jo at: July 16, 2017
I agree whole-heartily!

Submitted by Peter : ^) } at: July 15, 2017
Yes, thanks SO much for speaking the truth from your lived experience, Dr. Wright Edelman! We are grateful that our NY senators are on our side. But more people need to know about Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, even Albany. Our Upstate cities have high rates of child poverty, while the growing edge of our economy is in health care (5 hospitals in Syracuse). What would happen if the Senate passes this bill would be similar to the race/class disparities you noted, plus a quick downturn in local jobs. But I also want our Senators to follow the money: If this bill goes through, the "savings" of nearly $1 trillion from Medicaid and other carve-outs would likely go for new production facilities for new nuclear weapons, new submarines, new bombers, etc as well as tax cuts for wealthy people. You are right to call for it to die a swift death in the Senate. Health Care, Not Warfare!

Submitted by susana at: July 15, 2017
Dear Ms. Edelman and other compassionate people. Our hearts are broken with this callous disregard for any of our sisters and brothers. Our hearts and minds(mine Is 80 years determined) will continue with faith in Divine Mercy.

Submitted by Sheral Marshall, OSF at: July 15, 2017
Could we have the option of signing on to this wonderful letter you have written? I should surely do so!

Submitted by Glow at: July 15, 2017
Great article & to the point.

Submitted by Liz at: July 15, 2017
I say a resounding "AMEN" to Ms. Edelman's comments. I was reared in Florida, but had and saw similar occurrences when it came to access to health care. I urge you to vote "NO" on this so called Better Care act because it will only set our nation back. It makes more sense to fix the problems with the ACA than to take the direction the BCRA would take us as a nation.

Submitted by Jo at: July 15, 2017
The letter gives a vivid picture of what will happen if lawmakers make the wrong choice and turn back the clock on an American basic right .

Submitted by Critical at: July 15, 2017
I'm asking you Senators for a NO vote on this terrible health care Death Bill.

Submitted by Anonymous at: July 14, 2017
For Discussion This Is Still Very Very Very Important. Are The Individuals Who Are Trying To Take AWAY Are The Ones Paying For Something Different! The Wholesome Opportunity To Make A Difference (For The Wholeness OF LIFE) SHOULDN'T ARISE Everytime IGNORANCE/Hate/Evil BREEDS....GOD PLEASE DELIVER THESE PEOPLE....PEACE ALWAYS

Submitted by Anonymous at: July 14, 2017
Wonderful column. Wish there were more solutions!