CHRIS JENNINGS/HERALD DEMOCRAT
Marian Wright Edelman speaks Thursday at Austin College. The founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund is the 2012 Posey Leadership Award winner as recognized by the college.
When Marian Wright Edelman took the podium to speak to students at Austin College Thursday, her voice seemed to vibrate with wisdom, compassion, and humor. The founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund was on campus as the 2012 Posey Leadership Award winner.
The award was established to promote and recognize service and leadership.
Edelman said her parents inspired service and leadership in their children from an early age. She spoke of working in the senior citizen’s home her father, a minister, had established for black people in their community. Going to help out at the home was not fun, she said, but it was something that was expected in her family. And, she said, it taught her a lot.
She said life with her parents taught her to read often as reading was the only activity her father valued enough to allow it to keep him from assigning chores to his children. She also learned to work and to what needed to be done, not because someone told her to do it, but because it needed doing. Doing well, she said, meant learning and moving one’s self forward or doing something for others in need.
She appears to have learned the lessons well. She graduated from Spelman College and Yale Law School and began her professional career with NAACP as the first black woman admitted to practice law in Mississippi. She started the Children’s Defense Fund in 1973 to spot light the blight of poor children in this country. Though she has done much with her law degree, Edelman urged the students at AC to consider careers in education instead. She said this country does not need a whole new crop of young attorneys, but it does need inspired, dedicated passionate teachers to develop the next generation of leaders.
Edelman urged the students to remember, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” She said everything worth having in this life is worth working for, and people, and this country, must stop looking for the easy way out or the quick fix. Working hard, she said, is only way to really get ahead.
She cautioned, however, that getting ahead shouldn’t always be viewed as adding to one’s possessions or status in life. Sometimes, she said, people have to be content with just knowing they did the right thing for the right reason, even if it doesn’t bring them any type of gain. More over, she said, people should know doing the right thing for the right reason doesn’t always mean one will win. Some things, she said, are worth losing over.
Additional advice she gave to the students included, “Do your homework … pay attention to details … don’t assume a door is closed and don’t assume that a door that was closed (will remain closed). Push on it. Never stop learning … set thoughtful goals … work hard toward them.”
She said the advice comes from a letter she started writing to her own son, and she has added to it over the years.
A prepared statement from AC said the, “Posey Leadership Institute was founded in 1995 to give aspiring student leaders extraordinary opportunities to train for lives of leadership and service. The Institute provides a venue for dialogue and study of leadership that engages interested students and professionals in thoughtful investigation, demonstrated service, and critical reflection on the roles, responsibilities, and actions of effective leaders in society.
The Austin College Posey Leadership Award was created through donations of Sally and the late Lee Posey, founder of Palm Harbor Homes. Previous recipients include Wendy Kopp (2006), founder of Teach For America; Dr. Paul Farmer (2007), Harvard professor, medical anthropologist, physician, and medical activist; Geoffrey Canada (2008), president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone; Greg Mortenson (2009), educational activist and author of Three Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools; Muhammad Yunus (2010), Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of Grameen Bank; and Zainab Salbi (2011), founder of Women for Women International.