Starting a lecture, speakers can either sneak in one toe at a time, or hop right in the deep end and go for a splash.
Marian Wright Edelman decided to make a splash.
“I think we are living in a time of unbearable dissonance in America,” she said within her first 30 seconds on the podium. “Between the politics and the policy; between racial creed and racial deed; between calls for a community and rampant individualism; between our capacity to prevent and alleviate poverty, human deprivation and disease, and our [lack of] political will to do so.”
Edelman, president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, spoke 2 p.m. Monday in the Hall of Philosophy, delivering her lecture, “Ending Child Poverty In America Now.”
Edelman took on the issue of childhood hunger with a comprehensive focus. She addressed cultural issues regarding youth victims of gun violence, poor education systems and a society that does not care about its 14.7 million impoverished children.
“I believe that food, shelter and early childhood investments to get a child ready for school should take precedence over welfare for the rich and blatantly extensive spending for military weapons, many of which don’t work … to bring us peace and security,” she said.
According to Edelman’s figures, there are 14.7 million children in poverty, 6 million of whom are in extreme poverty.
Furthering her point, Edelman offered tangible suggestions to refocus federal spending and trim budgets to make room for America’s hungry. Among them, she suggested closing tax loopholes involving companies using subsidiaries and tax havens, eliminating tax breaks for corporations and taxing corporate dividends at the same rate as income.
However lofty her goals might be, Edelman gave no signs of backing down against her uphill battle.
“I don’t want anyone to tell me that my ideas are not politically realistic,” Edelman said. “We will make them politically realistic. We will get ourselves together and keep at it.”
Alongside federal funding issues, Edelman said that there is a cultural problem alongside the financial one. To this point, she said, any one of the highest paid CEOs takes home more annual pay than 6,600 childcare workers, and teachers are 270 times less valued financially than CEOs.
She said these facts are indicative of a skewed societal moral compass.
“All of the kindergarten teachers in America combined earn less in one year than 25 hedge fund managers,” Edelman said. “Something is wrong with that picture.”
Lastly, she pointed to the combined points of a poor education system leading to more street violence, particularly in black communities. According to Edelman, 174,400 children have been lost to gunfire since 1963, which is more than all U.S. military killed in action since World War II. She tied this to crime levels, which came with another upsetting statistic, that the average literacy among prisoners is at a fifth-grade level.
To close, Edelman called on the community at large to help fix the problem.
“This is an American issue,” Edelman said. “This is a spiritual issue. And it’s time for us to make America the country we’ve been seeking but we still have not yet achieved.”