marian-wright-edelman_web.jpgMIAMI — Marian Wright Edelman, president of The Children’s Defense Fund, visited the Belafonte Tacolcy Center on Thursday morning and spoke to a community room packed with energized supporters.

Her visit was in honor of the Tacolcy Center’s designation as the first Freedom Schools Program in South Florida. The CDF, a non-profit child advocacy organization, administers the program.


Tacolcy will launch the program during an all-day event on June 13, but the excitement surrounding the program and what it could potentially mean for children in Liberty City has the community enthused. 


The enthusiasm is warranted. A study of the Kansas City-based program revealed that children participating in it scored better on standardized testing than their peers. The gains were the largest among black middle-school males.


One of Liberty City’s elementary schools and two nearby senior high schools are in jeopardy of being closed due to consistent failing ratings on the state’s Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.


Deen Tyler, program director for Tacolcy’s Freedom Schools initiative, said the program is everything he ever envisioned for Tacolcy.


“This is a very exciting time for us,” Tyler said. “Belafonte Tacolcy is moving forward.”


Tyler’s boss, Tacolcy CEO Alison Austin, said of the agency’s significance to Liberty City, “[Tacolcy is] not simply a community center, we are the center of this community.”


Dee Dee Eisenberg, a member of the board of directors for the Children’s Defense Fund, introduced Edelman by saying, “I Googled… and I got 416,600 results when I typed in Marian Wright Edelman.”


Some of Eisenberg’s results said that Edelman was the first black woman to be admitted to the Mississippi Bar; that she directed the NAACP’s legal defense and educational office during the civil rights movement, and that she and served as legal counsel for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Poor People’s Campaign.


What the Google results may not have said is that Edelman has managed to infuse the Children’s Defense Fund’s initiatives with a strong aura of optimism and determination that attracts a diverse coalition of supporters.


Training for Freedom Schools’ teachers and staff takes place at the spacious Tennessee farm owned by the late author Alex Haley, a fitting atmosphere for a program that is revolutionizing the way children of color learn.


By launching the Freedom Schools, Tacolcy will join hundreds of other community organizations, churches and schools across the nation in offering a program that has enriched the lives of more than 70,000 children since its inception in 1995.


The program incorporates high-quality academic enrichment; parent and family involvement; social action and civic engagement; intergenerational servant leadership development and nutrition; and a serious focus on health and mental health issues.


Edelman’s success as a lawyer during the civil rights era was tempered by the realities that her clients faced outside the courtroom; realities reflected in the program’s multi-faceted components.


“I could go into court as a civil rights lawyer, and win my school desegregation case, but then the next day my plaintiffs were thrown out of their houses, thrown out of their jobs, shot at and didn’t have any food, I couldn’t say that I won my case.”


Her commitment to leveling the playing field for children began on one of the saddest days in the country’s history.


“The day Dr. King was assassinated, I went out to public schools to tell children not to riot, not to loot, not to lose their future,” she said of her encounter with a 12-year old boy, whom she said looked her straight in the eye and said, “Lady, what future, I ain’t got no future, I ain’t got nothing to lose.”


His somber statement has helped to define her work as a wife, mother, grandmother and author.


“I’ve worked the past 40 years, and will work the rest of my life to prove that boy’s truth wrong.”


Any work to empower children must include their families and their communities, Edelman explained of the CDF approach to helping the country’s most vulnerable.


“Children don’t come in pieces. Children come in families and families come in communities, and communities are affected by the priorities and values of their state and local and national government and by the culture that feeds us our values,” Edelman said.


On Tacolcy’s commitment to Liberty City, Austin said, “We want to be transformed. We want our community to be transformed. We are raising the bar of excellence.”


On Tacolcy’s launch of its very own Freedom School, Austin said, “We would like to see Freedom Schools all over this community. We’re about to demonstrate that there is nothing wrong with our babies.”

Pictured above is Marian Wright Edelman.