There are few people alive today whose names are as synonymous with social justice—especially for the most vulnerable among us—as Marian Wright Edelman. Now, the children’s rights advocate who founded the Children’s Defense Fund will be stepping down as president, a role she held for 45 years. In a statement released this morning, the CDF announced that Edelman will move into the role of president emerita.
The CDF’s board of directors will also begin their search for a new president of the influential organization, which has championed child health, childcare, education and support for impoverished families since its founding in 1973.
But that doesn’t mean Edelman’s influence will be gone. According to CDF spokeswoman Emily Gardner, Edelman will continue to guide the organization in other ways.
“In this new role she will focus her energies towards building a lasting movement for children to end child poverty and inequality through servant leadership development at key spiritual retreats and convenings at CDF’s Haley Farm,” Gardner wrote.
Edelman is a Spelman sister and graduate of Yale University. In 1985, she received a MacArthur “Genius” grant for her work with the CDF, which combines research, policy analysis and advocacy to advance children’s welfare and wellbeing.
The organization has also trained some of the country’s most prominent advocates for children.
Hillary Clinton, a former attorney for CDF, said in a statement she has been inspired by Edelman since meeting her in 1969.
“Watching and working with her is one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me,” Clinton said. “The mission of the Children’s Defense Fund is more important today than ever, and as she transitions to this new role and continues her mission to end childhood poverty in America, I look forward to watching her guide CDF with the same grace, determination and grit that she’s embodied her entire life.”
Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and CDF board member, echoed Clinton’s praises.
“After meeting starving children in the Mississippi Delta in the 1960s, she became the most passionate, strategic and effective advocate for helping poor children and their families in the nation,” said Stevenson. “Her leadership and tenure at the Children’s Defense Fund has created rights and services that have aided millions of families. We owe her an enormous debt.”